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Legislative update: Congress OKs stopgap deal, still no promise of federal budget by Nov. 18

September 27, 2011
Lori Clark

Lori Clark

In Washington, D.C. …

Activities in Washington over the past week bring to mind a quote from that great sage, Yogi Berra: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Once again, Congress found itself at a critical juncture to approve a Continuing Resolution (CR) that would allow the federal government to operate Saturday, Oct. 1, the beginning of the federal fiscal year.

That happened early Monday evening, when the Senate voted 79-12 to approve a stopgap measure. And, according to, “the deal also includes a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through Tuesday, giving the House the option of passing the short-term measure by voice vote since most members are out of town during their recess.”

As has been reported in previous columns, however, Congress has not yet approved any of the 12 FY2012 appropriations bills that would fund the federal government for the entire fiscal year.

An earlier CR that would have allowed the federal government to keep spending through Friday, Nov. 18, initially failed in the House of Representatives. Conservative Republicans wanted to see additional spending cuts beyond the $1.043 trillion spending cap agreed to in the debt ceiling budget compromise agreed to in June, 2011, and the Democrats objected to an offset of $1.5 billion of the $3.65 billion in disaster relief funding with a cut to a program that lends money to automakers to encourage the production of energy-efficient cars.

Early last Friday morning, the House did pass a CR that would continue funding programs at FY2011 levels, but with an across-the-board cut of 1.4 percent to meet the $1.043 trillion funding level agreed to in the Budget Control Act. This CR did include an additional $3.65 billion in disaster relief funding, as well as the offset using $1.5 billion from the auto loan program.

Meanwhile, there are no indications that there will be any agreements on the budget by the time the CR is set to expire Nov. 18.

Further compounding this issue is the “Super Committee” that was appointed to identify ways to trim an additional $1.5 trillion from the federal deficit over 10 years or face mandatory spending caps, part of the Budget Control Act agreement.

The chairs of regular appropriations committees are weighing in, often offering conflicting advice to the Super Committee. We can expect things to continue to heat up as we are rapidly approaching the Thanksgiving deadline for their recommendations.

NIU President John Peters signed on to a letter to the Super Committee from the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public Land Grant Universities and their members institutions, calling on the committee to develop a deficit plan that would follow the bipartisan majority report of the Bowles-Simpson National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Report and “ … cut red tape and unproductive government spending that hinders job creation and growth. At the same time, we must invest in education, infrastructure, and high-value research and development to help our economy grow, keep us globally competitive, and make it easier for businesses to create jobs.”

In slightly better news, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved Sept. 21 the Labor-Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act of 2012.

The measure maintains a maximum award of $5,550 for the Pell Grant Program and provides level funding for all other higher education programs that received funding in FY 2011.

As reported by ASSCU, to address the $1.3 billion Pell Grant shortfall, the committee is proposing to eliminate the interest subsidy provided on subsidized loans for the six-month grace period after a student leaves school. The provision saves $2.34 billion in the first five years, with $1.3 billion of that amount designated for FY 2012 and the remaining $1 billion designated for FY 2013.

This measure is not expected to come to the Senate floor as a stand alone bill, but will be incorporated within a larger omnibus appropriations bill negotiated between the House and Senate, so the use of the interest subsidy may change.

In Springfield …

The House of Representatives has continued to hold meetings of its various working groups looking at pension reform issues. There are four working groups:

  • Benefits/Contributions
  • Funding
  • Structure
  • General

NIU is being represented at all meetings by Vice President Steve Cunningham.

Following the series of Chicago Tribune articles on the pension benefits of certain labor leaders, House Minority Leader Tom Cross introduced House Bill 3813 that would close the “loophole” in the pension law that allows the city pensions of labor leaders employed by labor unions who are on leaves of absence from city jobs to be based on the salaries they are paid while employed by the labor organizations.

It is still not clear as to whether the pension reform issue will be taken up in the fall veto session, either in whole or in part. We are monitoring this situation closely and will report on any new developments.

The Voices section of NIU Today features opinions and perspectives from across campus. Lori Clark is director of State and Federal Relations for NIU.