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Legislative update: ‘Super Committee’ fails, Illinois lawmakers to resume veto session

November 21, 2011
Lori Clark

Lori Clark

In Washington, D.C. …

As expected, Congress last week approved the first “minibus” Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations, which included funding for Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-HUD. It also included an extension of the Continuing Resolution so that the government can operate until Friday, Dec. 16.

Of special interest to NIU is the increase in the National Science Foundation appropriation, up $173 million over the FY2011 funding level. Congress has indicated that $5.7 billion of this amount is intended for research and related activities, a $155 million increase.

Unfortunately, funding for the Office of Science and Technology Policy was reduced by nearly 32 percent.

The biggest news revolves around the Deficit Reduction Super Committee and its failure to meet the Nov. 23 deadline by which it needed to introduce a plan that would cut at least $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit over 10 years.

It is apparent that the committee was unable to overcome the partisanship in Washington, thus setting the stage for automatic across-the-board budget cuts in both defense and non-defense/discretionary spending programs.

Unlike previous budget “showdowns,” however, there is no immediate threat to ongoing government operations.

When Congress returns after the Thanksgiving break, they will have approximately four weeks to finish the remaining nine appropriations bills and to deal with some major issues that were intended to be handled by the “super committee.”

According to Dave Hawkings of CQ:

“The supercommittee was widely expected to extend the payroll tax cut and the expanded unemployment benefits — both of which will otherwise lapse New Year’s Eve, thereby threatening the currently fragile economic recovery. There was also talk of once again preserving Medicare’s current formula of payments to doctors (the fabled “doc fix”) and once again reining in the reach of the Alternative Minimum Tax — two annual rituals of recent years that grow more politically problematic when asked to move as stand-alone legislation. And there’s a Postal Service insolvency that, in macro-budget terms, is right around the corner.”

It is likely that the remaining nine appropriations bills will be consolidated into an omnibus appropriations bill before the current Continuing Resolution expires Dec. 16, although another Continuing Resolution might still be in the picture.

There has been some talk of changing the “triggers” for the sequestration (across-the-board cuts) and possibly doing away with them completely for defense spending, although this issue will probably not be addressed until early next year. The credit rating companies and financial markets are keeping a close eye on events in D.C., and we could see even more volatility in the markets.

On a positive note, I urge you to check out the NIU Today story about our trip to Washington last week.

NIU Vice President of Research Lisa Freeman and Timothy Hagen, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, joined me as we participated in a Research, Development and Innovation Day sponsored by the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition. We had the opportunity to meet with a number of members of the Illinois congressional delegation and staff to discuss the importance of federal investments in research and development programs, as well as student financial assistance programs.

In Springfield …

Photo of a coin purseThe General Assembly will reconvene Tuesday, Nov. 29, for an extra day of veto session.

A major topic that will likely be discussed is a package of business incentives to benefit the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Sears, as well as the extension of the Research & Development Tax Credit.

We do not know at this time if a revised gaming expansion plan will be brought up. However, we have learned that there will be no further activity on pension reform until next year.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education’s Performance Funding Steering Committee will meet again Wednesday, Nov. 30, at Richland Community College in Decatur. Please check the NIU Performance Funding website for updates on the meeting.

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