Web Date: March 2, 2011
Government On Life Support
Congress today passed short-term legislation to cut $4 billion from the federal budget and give legislators until March 18 to hammer out a bill to fund the government until Sept. 30, which is the end of the fiscal year. President Barack Obama has said that he will sign the bill.
The bill temporarily resolves a fiscal 2011 budget impasse between House and Senate leaders, which could have resulted in a government shutdown on March 5. That is the day after an earlier temporary funding bill for the government expires. Congress has yet to pass a fiscal 2011 budget and so has had to rely on these so called continuing resolutions to keep the government in operation.
In late February, House Republicans, with no support from their democratic colleagues, passed 2011 budget legislation that would cut government spending by $61 billion for the remainder of the fiscal year and also nix many regulations unpopular with business (C&EN, Feb. 28, page 7). Senate Democrats strongly oppose the bill and have vowed to block its passage.
The impact of the $4 billion in spending cuts outlined in the short-term extension bill is likely to be small. Some $1.2 billion comes from programs that Obama himself sought to eliminate as unnecessary. The remainder is a mix of congressional earmarks, divided among nearly every government department except Defense.
In statements following approval of the stopgap measure, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) criticized one another. Boehner held fast to the House-passed measure and said that Reid and other Senate Democrats in passing the stopgap bill had been "forced to retreat." Reid accused Boehner's caucus of threatening a government shutdown "if they don't get everything they're demanding."
Obama said he was pleased Congress had reached a two-week agreement, adding, however, that "we cannot keep doing business this way." He urged congressional leaders to meet with Vice President Joseph Biden and other White House officials to find common ground.
Federal agencies have been mostly mum about the impact of a possible government shutdown. Agency officials note that they have been required since 1980 to have contingency plans in place for such an event.
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