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Federal update: Shutdown averted – for now

April 15, 2011

The White HouseWith less than an hour to go before the federal government would have been forced to shut down everything except “essential” services operated by “essential” personnel last Friday, Congress and President Obama agreed to a one-week Continuing Resolution (CR), set to expire Friday, April 15.

This short-term CR was needed to allow the House of Representatives and the Senate time to finalize the legislative language on the agreement for the remainder of the FY2011 federal budget and to get it through both houses.

The details of the agreement have not yet been released, however, it appears as though $18 billion will be cut from mandatory programs and $20 billion from discretionary programs, although $12 billion of that has already been enacted in the last three short-term CRs. There will be another $1 billion in cuts coming from an across-the-board reduction affecting all programs except Defense.

It is anticipated that the 28 conservative Republicans and the 42 mostly liberal Democrats who voted against the short-term CR will vote against the compromise agreement – the Republicans because they feel like Speaker Boehner gave too much away and the Democrats because they feel that President Obama gave too much away.

The heightened drama of last week helped to showcase the great political discord in Washington – within Congress and with the Obama administration.

Many characterized this as a very high-stakes game of chicken, waiting to see who would blink first and who would emerge as the “winner.” Federal agencies had issued shutdown guidance procedures and up to 800,000 employees were ready to be furloughed. While not as immediate, a federal government shutdown would have had an impact on NIU.

So, now that it appears as though there will be a federal budget for the remainder of this fiscal year, can we expect things in Washington to quiet down? Hardly.

There are fundamental differences between the conservative Republicans and the more liberal Democrats on spending cuts.

During the most recent negotiations, the waters were further muddied when the Republicans attached riders to the bill that would have blocked funding for Planned Parenthood and limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory powers on greenhouse gas emissions and mountaintop mining, to name a few examples. These were just some of the differences that emerged during the FY2011 budget negotiations, and it is widely expected that unless both sides move more to the middle, similar scenarios will play out with the FY2012 budget negotiations and the issue of raising the federal debt ceiling.

President Obama, who only recently has engaged in budget negotiations, had intended to let Congress send him a federal budget. That approach backfired, and the president was criticized for being a bystander.

As a result, he is scheduled to give a major speech today that will outline his own ideas for a budget – one that offers tax increases and entitlement changes designed to make significant reductions in projected deficits. It will outline his ideas for reining in Medicare and Medicaid costs, call for deeper cuts in defense spending, and propose getting rid of the Bush tax for the rich (those making more than $250,000 a year). It is rumored that he may say that he’s open to discussing changes to Social Security.

It looks to be a long and bumpy spring with lots of storm clouds on the horizon.

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