Federal update: Congress still without a budget

Lori Clark
Lori Clark

Congress continues to struggle with the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.

Last week, the Senate defeated both H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution passed by the House of Representatives that would cut spending by $61 billion, and the Senate Democratic counter-proposal that would cut federal spending by about $6.5 billion.

With the defeat of both bills and the approximately $50 billion gap between the proposals, there is plenty of opportunity for bi-partisan negotiations should both parties be willing.

President Obama, who has been criticized for staying on the sidelines in the budget discussions, publicly expressed his impatience last week with the lack of progress in Congressional budget negotiations and the reliance on short-term continuing resolutions to keep the government operating.

He has directed Vice President Joe Biden to work with Congress on a spending plan for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires Friday, March 18. It is widely expected that there will be a three-week CR passed by Congress until Friday, April 8 – with an additional $6 billion in discretionary spending cuts – to allow more time to finalize budget negotiations. There is certainly no guarantee that this will be the last CR of the fiscal year.

There are indications that Congress might undertake a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind before the next academic year begins in September.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been discussing the president’s education reform plan over the past year.

Essentially, the administration’s plan calls for shifting the federal emphasis from proficiency testing in math and reading to measures that gauge gains in student achievement. It would expand formula funding, as well as boosting spending for competitive grants such as the Race to the Top program. It also would increase local control by providing greater flexibility for teachers and principals, supporting the nation’s better teacher-preparation programs, and offering incentives for the best teachers to serve in the neediest districts.

It remains to be seen as to whether Congress can agree to language and pass a rewrite of our nation’s education law within the accelerated timeframe being discussed.

The Senate is currently debating the reauthorization of small-business research and development programs (SBIR/STTR). There is the threat of a filibuster on this legislation, not because of the content of the legislation, but more because of a group of GOP conservatives who want to block anything that is not related to deficit or debt reduction.



The Voices section of NIU Today features opinions and perspectives from across campus. Lori Clark is director of federal relations for NIU.

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