Congress returns to work today for a three-week session where lawmakers face some difficult budget and spending decisions. The most urgent task remains funding the government for the rest of FY11, with the latest continuing resolution (CR) set to expire in less than two weeks (April 8th). The current CR cut another $6 billion in current spending — bringing to $10 billion the amount of spending that has been cut so far by CR extensions enacted in the past month. Still, Republicans and Democrats are more than $51 billion apart in the additional amount of cuts to discretionary spending they want for this fiscal year, which is now about half over.
Little progress has been made between the two parties on spending since they approved the last CR on March 16th and many pundits now believe that the chances for a government shutdown are increasing. Congressional leaders at the end of last week criticized one another regarding the status of talks, which reportedly broke down March 22 over the question of whether negotiations should proceed from the $61.5 billion in cuts proposed by House Republicans as part of HR 1, or the $10 billion in cuts already made so far this year.
The Senate this week expects to take what amount to “test votes” on many of the policy issues now linked to the FY11 spending bill. Those votes would occur on amendments being offered to an otherwise non-controversial small-business bill (S 493). The Republican amendments include provisions to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood, public broadcasting, and implementation of the health care overhaul law. Other possible amendments include a series to end the federal ethanol subsidy, eliminate leftover earmarks, and eliminate or consolidate duplicative federal programs. Another amendment is planned that would put senators on record as to whether efforts to reduce future debt and deficits should involve Social Security.
So far, the FY11 debate has spared most federal research accounts from the harshest cuts – but there are still programs and funding in jeopardy. The Office of Federal Relations is in frequent contact with our state’s congressional delegation, as well as others, to make sure they understand the implications of reductions and eliminations to federal research and training accounts.