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Legislative update: Government watchers await details of spending cuts to federal programs

August 8, 2011
Lori Clark

Lori Clark

In Washington, D.C. …

Now that Congress and the president have agreed to a plan to reduce spending and the federal deficit, we are awaiting the details of which federal programs will be reduced and by how much.

Congress is on a four-week recess, returning after Labor Day.

THE MOST IMMEDIATE REACTION to the recent deal in Washington has been in the U.S. and global financial markets. Standard & Poors last Friday downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time since it began assigning gradings to countries in 1941 (from AAA to AA).

Further, the global markets plummeted last week, and there was massive selling caused by a growing dread that Europe faces an insurmountable debt crisis and fears that the United States could stumble back into recession. The Dow closed down 512 points last Thursday, or 4.31 percent of its value, giving up all of its gains for 2011 and marking the deepest dive since October 2008.

The Dow closed down another 630 points today. Similar declines have occurred in the S&P and Nasdaq.

David Hawkings, in the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, provided the following information about recent polling numbers following this deal:

“An 82 percent disapproval rating for Congress was recorded by New York Times and CBS News pollsters on Tuesday and Wednesday, just as lawmakers were leaving town after avoiding default and as their initial decision to leave the FAA in limbo was becoming a headline. It was the highest level recorded by the Times/CBS poll since the question was first asked 34 years ago. And fully 75 percent of those polled said most members of Congress do not deserve to be re-elected while just 15 percent say they do — a finding that suggests an anti-incumbent wave could sweep across all four caucuses in 2012.

“The poll offered other foreboding numbers for lawmakers — especially the Republicans — on virtually every front. While the survey showed a statistical tie on approval vs. disapproval for the debt deal enacted this week, 82 percent said the preceding standoff was ‘mostly about gaining political advantage’ and just 14 percent said it was ‘mostly about doing what was best for the country.’ And the survey signaled that the public saw the congressional GOP as politically motivated most of all: 72 percent said they disapprove of how Republicans handled the negotiations, while 66 percent disapproved of how Hill Democrats handled them.

“But the poll showed a statistical tie between those who disapproved and approved of how Obama handed the standoff. And going forward, 47 percent said they trust him to make decisions about the economy — far better than the 33 percent trusting congressional Republicans. (Boehner’s own disapproval rating surged to 57 percent, up 16 points since April. His approval rating now is 30 percent.) One finding that suggests trouble ahead for the Republicans selling the argument that cutting federal spending is the best prescription for the economy: 62 percent think creating jobs should be Washington’s focus, 29 percent think it should be cutting spending — and only 8 percent say it should be both.”

IN OTHER FEDERAL NEWS, because efforts to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have languished in Congress, the Obama administration announced today that it would grant waivers for certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act to states that agree to adopt a prescribed set of education reforms.

The details of what these reforms will be and what freedoms the states will gain in return will not be released until September. Any state can apply for a waiver, and its application will be reviewed by a peer panel. The final decision on waivers rests with the secretary of the Department of Education.

Waivers will begin for the 2011-2012 school year.

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