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Federal update: Government operating on series of short-term continuing resolutions

February 2, 2011
Lori Clark

Lori Clark

The shakeup in the U.S. Congress during the mid-term elections in November 2010 caused the departure of both freshmen and long-tenured members of Congress, resulting in new Congressional leadership, new composition of House and Senate committees, and correspondingly new legislative priorities.

For NIU, we saw the departure of Bill Foster and the installation of Randy Hultgren as Congressman for the 14th District. Mark Kirk replaced Roland Burris as U.S. senator. We are beginning to get some indications of how these changes might begin to impact higher education and NIU.

Federal Fiscal Year 2011 began Oct. 1, 2010. Congress has not been able to pass any appropriations or omnibus funding bills this year. As a result, the federal government has been operating under a series of short-term Continuing Resolutions (CRs).

The CRs basically keep funding for government operations level at the monthly pro-rated rates from the Fiscal Year 2010 budget. However, some competitive grant programs have not issued annual solicitations for proposals because of the uncertainty surrounding the budget. This situation is compounded by the fact that the House Republican Policy Committee has split with the chairman of the House Committee on the Budget on the size of the budget cuts for the current fiscal year.

The Republican Committee is calling for current year budget cuts of $100 billion, compared to the $60 billion proposed by the chairman. There are only seven months remaining in the fiscal year, so the larger the cuts, the greater the actual impact on government programs and operations.

Further exacerbating the budget woes is a report by the Congressional Budget Office issued last week that dramatically upped its projection of the FY2011 federal deficit, estimating that the difference between government expenditures and revenues would reach $1.480 trillion by the end of the current fiscal year, up $414 billion from its August 2010 projections. Congressional Republicans are calling for deficit reduction plans as well as budget cuts.

President Obama delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday, Jan. 25.

The president called for a five-year freeze in non-security discretionary federal funding. Left unanswered were questions as to how Congress could freeze this non-security discretionary funding, which is about 12 cents on the dollar in the federal budget, while, at the same time, giving the president the spending increases that he wants – for education, broadband, high-speed rail, scientific research and clean energy technology.

The president also stated that he would veto any bill passed by Congress that contains earmarks. If he makes good on this threat, he will almost certainly have the votes in the House and the Senate to sustain such vetoes.

President Obama will release his Fiscal Year 2012 budget Monday, Feb. 14, and we then will have a better idea of the details of his proposed budget and its possible implications to our operations.

The president’s plan is in marked contrast to Congressional Republicans, who are seeking to dramatically reduce federal spending, and they have indicated that they will not be satisfied simply with a spending freeze.

On January 24, the House of Representatives approved House Resolution 38, which directs the chairman of the House Budget Committee to cut non-security discretionary federal spending to Fiscal Year 2008 levels. As one example of the potential impact this may have, Pell grants, which nearly 9 million students nationally rely on to help pay for their college education, would be lowered from the maximum of $5,550 today to $4,000 or even less in the fall of 2011.

We are monitoring this situation closely, and NIU will work closely with national higher education associations to register our strong opposition to Pell grant reductions.

Lori Clark is director of federal relations for NIU.