Legislative update: Illinois General Assembly returns to session today, capital bill awaits

Lori Clark
Lori Clark

In Springfield …

The Illinois General Assembly comes back in session today. The purpose of this session is to deal with some outstanding issues, most importantly, the capital bill.

The Senate had added an amendment that included more than $400 million in additional funding, including $17 million for the Monetary Assistance Program. The House had refused to act on this amendment, so the entire capital bill, including funding to NIU for the Cole Hall renovation, Stevens renovation and planning funds for the new Computer Technology Center, was in jeopardy.

The Senate Democrats have backed down on this amendment, so it appears as though the capital bill will be able to proceed.

In Washington, D.C. …

Most of the focus in Washington these days is on the budget negotiations being led by Vice President Joseph Biden and his six Congressional summiteers.

The Democrats continue to push for more revenue, while the Republicans are pushing for significant cuts to federal health programs as part of the debt reduction package. The two sides do appear to agree on the magnitude of the package – at least $2 trillion in savings paired with an increase in the debt limit of a similar size. The group might try to reach a compromise to get $4 trillion in savings over the next decade, a number first established by the Debt Reduction Commission last year.

There are still deep policy disagreements among both sides. While there is broad agreement on where they want to end up, the devil is in the details.

As the negotiations intensify over the coming weeks, we should have a better indication of where and how much cutting is being proposed. There does appear to be a strong interest by Congress in finalizing the budget package before July 4, well in advance of the projected Aug. 2 deadline when the United States might begin to default on its borrowing repayments.

Much attention was given to the golf game over the weekend with President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, Biden and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The budget negotiations were expected to be a major topic of conversation. Wall Street and the markets are looking for a clear signal that a deal is on course to completion in plenty of time before Aug. 2.

There also appears to be some give on both sides. Sen. Mitch McConnell offered an olive branch over the weekend saying that Senate Republicans would support a stop gap, several-month increase extension of Treasury borrowing power if there was genuinely serious progress on a budget package, including entitlement limits (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security) by Aug. 2.

In addition, Senate Republicans voted last week to close out some ethanol subsidies in the tax code and use the savings to reduce the deficit. AARP also has dropped its long-standing opposition to cutting future Social Security benefits, recognizing that changes are needed; as part of the deal, they want a place at the table to help craft changes to the system.

The House is beginning to move and/or mark up some of the FY2012 appropriations bills, including defense, agriculture, military construction/VA and energy and water.

Finally, H.R. 1249, the America Invents Act intended to reform the U.S. patent system, ran into some problems last week over the provision that would allow the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to keep all of the fees it collects to fund its operations.

It looks as though a deal could be reached that would have the patent office estimate how much money it would need to operate in advance and then receive those funds through an appropriation. Any additional revenue the patent office generated would go to a reserve fund that would be available to the patent office after it submitted a spending plan to appropriators. This bill will most likely be acted upon this week.

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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