The Slow Road to September – Congress, Continuing Resolutions and The FY 2011 Budget

On February 19, 2011 the House of Representatives passed the Republican majority's version of the Fiscal Year 2011 spending bill, which contains funding for the entire federal government through the end of September. 162 amendments were offered during consideration of the bill and 67 passed. Let's take a look at some of the spending cuts proposed in the budget and what they mean going forward.

The spending cut that made the headlines first was the vote to remove funding for a second engine for the Pentagon's Joint Strike Fighter program. Members in Ohio and Massachusetts were pushing for an additional $450 million to fund an alternative engine built by General Electric and Rolls Royce in those states. The funding was cut by a vote of 233-198, reversing the House's earlier decision to approve additional money for the engine program.

Yet while House members voted to cut numerous programs, including the JSF engine, within the FY2011 House spending bill, the overall defense budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 would actually rise by $7 billion when compared to FY2010 levels, even though the total is less than President Obama originally proposed for FY2011 or for the upcoming 2012 fiscal year. The $533 billion figure for FY2011 is the Pentagon's “baseline” budget, which does not include funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As we reported in our analysis of the President's FY2012 request, funding for infrastructure is a top Administration priority, along with the continuing goals of improving energy efficiency and reducing the effects of climate change. Yet seven Department of Transportation initiatives would be “zeroed out” in the House bill, including grants for energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction and additional funding for Washington D.C.'s transportation system.

The Center for American Progress lists the human services programs that would be cut if this spending bill were to pass the Senate in its current form and be signed by the President. Highlights include a reduction of over $1 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund, which helps public housing authorities repair housing; the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) loses $758 million; and Title I grants, which provide additional money to low-income school districts, would be cut by $693.5 billion.

Most of the amendments that passed aimed to move money between departments or apply any savings to reducing the deficit. An $80 million cut in the U.S. Census Bureau's budget restored the Economic Development Agency to 2010 funding levels. Another amendment removed almost $2 million from a Department of Interior study at Klamath Falls and applied it towards deficit reduction. Savings from a cut to firefighter assistance grants went to shore up the Department of Homeland Security Research and Development budget. Other amendments offered were ruled out of order, withdrawn, or voted down.

The next step in the process for passing a FY2011 budget is for the Senate to consider what the House passed. The government has until midnight on March 4, 2011 to pass appropriations to keep the federal government funded and running. It is possible, and perhaps likely, that Congress will pass another continuing resolution until a final, comprehensive budget is worked out between both chambers and the President.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is reportedly preparing a Senate FY2011 30-day Continuing Resolution as time is running out and March 4, 2011 is only a week away.

Stay tuned. Deep cuts in the remaining six months of the year could cripple federal programs which are already operating close to the bone.