An impasse over ideological and fiscal issues continues to hinder progress.
The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to keep the federal government open for another week. It also funds the Pentagon for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year and makes $12 billion in spending cuts. President Obama has said he won’t sign the bill and is adamant that lawmakers negotiate a long-term deal.
Shortly after the 257–181 vote, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) made their second trip in less than 24 hours to the White House to meet with Obama. Not much was achieved, however.
“There is no agreement on the number. There are no agreements on the policy issues that are contained with this,” said Boehner. “I do believe that all of us sincerely believe that we can get to an agreement, but we are not there yet.” He also said that he expressed to the president his disappointment over the veto threat.
What’s all the fuss about?
A continuing resolution, or CR, is a temporary measure used to fund the federal government and is used when Congress and the president fail to pass a budget for the entire fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Lawmakers didn’t pass a 2011 budget last year and have used a series of CRs to keep government running.
Why wasn’t the budget passed last year?
It is not uncommon for Congress to fail to pass a budget during an election year. Neither party wants to be judged by voters, especially when they cannot agree on the figures. In addition, it was a pretty sure bet that Republicans would win the House majority, giving them the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to slash government spending. So, when the September 30 deadline passed last year, Congress voted for the first CR, which expired December 3, 2010. Since then, they have passed six others, including the one set to expire on April 8.
But didn’t Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House last year?
Senate Democrats put together one big spending package, but it would have been impossible to pass the legislation without at least some Republican support. Now with a divided government, of which Republicans control just one-third, the negotiation process is even more fractious.
What is the major sticking point?
Initially, the major disagreement centered on how deep budget cuts should be. House Republicans initially proposed cutting $35 billion from Obama’s original 2011 budget request of $1.28 trillion. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the Republican cuts “unworkable.” On the House side, Republican freshmen revolted because they’d made campaign promises to reduce government spending by $100 billion. The House ultimately passed H.R. 1, which cut $61 billion. It also included several controversial policy riders, such as measures to defund Planned Parenthood and major cuts to critical education programs. Obama says he would veto a bill containing such measures—not that he’ll have a chance, because it would never advance through the Senate.
This year, Congress has passed two short-term CRs that collectively cut $10 billion. Rumor has it that the negotiators have settled on $33 billion, although House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been unwilling to be pinned down to a specific figure. In addition, GOP freshmen and other more conservative members of the party are threatening a second revolt. Rep. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), chairman of the freshman caucus, said he wouldn’t support anything less than $41 billion.
There’s also the issue of policy riders, with some Republican members vowing to vote against the final CR if it includes funding for Planned Parenthood. Obama has warned lawmakers to not turn the negotiations into an ideological debate.
That is the proverbial $61 billion question. Lawmakers were scheduled to return to their districts Thursday afternoon but may end up working over the weekend to finalize a spending package.
(Photo: Clara Molden/Landov)