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Federal update: Congress approves yet another continuing resolution to keep government open

March 26, 2013
Lori Clark

Lori Clark

In Washington, D.C. …

Congress has now adjourned for a two-week spring recess.

Last week, both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate were able to approve a short-term continuing resolution (H.R. 933) that will allow the federal government to remain operational through the end of the federal fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2013). The current continuing resolution (CR) expires Wednesday.

The new resolution does lock in the across-the-board budget reductions required by sequestration. However, it allows some flexibility for certain agencies. The new CR does not include the extra funding that was requested by the Obama administration for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency responsible for implementing the health care law.

H.R. 933 maintains the existing spending caps, setting FY 2013 non-emergency discretionary spending authority at $984 billion after the sequester is taken in to account; this is down from $1.043 trillion in FY 2012.

An amendment was approved that would reallocate funding so that the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard could continue their tuition assistance programs for active-duty troops. Another amendment was modified – instead of requiring the National Science Foundation (NSF) to completely de-fund political science research, the language was revised to require that the NSF director must certify that any research funded by the agency for political science research must demonstrate national security value or economic benefit.

Congress also began work on FY 2014 budget resolutions.

The Senate passed its budget resolution in the early hours of Saturday, March 23, representing the first time in four years that a budget resolution has been passed in the Senate (by a vote of 50-49). Approximately 100 of the 600 amendments filed received a vote.

Photo of light bulbsSeveral of the amendments are of interest to NIU.

The first would establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to establish a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) that leverages private and public sector investments for proven U.S.-based manufacturing industries. NNMI is intended to bring together industry, universities and community colleges, federal agencies such as the departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy and the NSF, as well as state and local governments, to accelerate manufacturing innovation.

The initiative would establish public-private institutes that leverage investments in industrially relevant manufacturing technologies with broad applications to bridge the gap between basic research and product development and to provide shared assets to help companies.

Sen. Dick Durbin’s amendment was included, and it would establish a deficit neutral reserve fund to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health. Another amendment would provide an additional use for the deficit-neutral reserve fund for higher education, and yet another amendment would increase the investment in high-impact breakthrough clean energy technologies through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy of the Department of Energy.

The Senate plan calls for replacing the sequester cuts with a combination of different spending cuts and tax increases, and it would increase spending by $100 billion in new spending on infrastructure and job training.

Department of Education logoIn addition, Pell Grants would be fully funded and future shortfalls eliminated. Further, it would make the subsidized Stafford Loan interest rate permanent, provide increased funding for other student financial aid programs and increase funding for scientific research and institutional support.

The House also passed a FY 2014 budget resolution (H.Con.Res.25) sponsored by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, but it is starkly different than the Senate version. It passed the House last week by a 221-207 vote, mainly along party lines. The House budget resolution is designed to balance the federal budget in 10 years and save $5 trillion.

This plan would require that Congress repeal “Obamacare,” and it proposes spending reductions to Medicaid, food stamps, Pell grants and other discretionary programs. Pell Grant funding would be reduced by $86 billion over the next 10 years, and program eligibility would be severely limited. The federal student loan in-school interest exemption would be eliminated, income-based repayment options would be curtailed and federal research funding would be reduced beyond even reductions required by the sequester.

Further, the plan proposes to partially privatize Medicare and to increase the program’s premiums for wealthier Medicare recipients. An overhaul of the tax code also is proposed.

The House and Senate have now set forth the more extreme boundaries of their FY 2014 budget plans. Neither budget resolution passed would ever be approved in the other chambers, so these plans should be viewed as a platform from which to begin budget discussions and negotiations.

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