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The Senate passed a sixth Continuing Resolution on March 17, 2011, which cuts an additional $6 billion from the Fiscal Year 2011 budget. The FY 2011 year ends September 30, 2011 and Republican leaders are under pressure to meet the $100 billion-cut-goal set by the House Appropriations Committee. As this year's budget process grinds forward with a series of Continuing Resolutions, the Republicans have less and less time in which to enact those reductions before FY 2012 begins on October 1, 2011.
The latest Continuing Resolution goes into effect on March 19, 2011 and funds the government for an additional three weeks. Its $6 billion in cuts come from a variety of areas. Funding for some programs was rescinded completely, including the International Fund for Ireland, Brownfields Redevelopment (which promotes cleanup and reuse of toxic industrial sites), and the Save America's Treasures program (which grants money for historic preservation).
Other cuts include taking back almost $2 billion in unspent funds allocated for the 2010 Census and eliminating an emergency steel loan program that hadn't made a loan since 2003. The majority of the cuts contained in this latest CR, as in the last one, are programs that have been brought up for termination before by members of Congress or by the Obama or Bush administrations.
The “easy” cuts cannot last forever. As the parties disagree with each other and the White House, activists are taking to the internet and the streets to defend threatened programs that provide for the poor, ill and elderly. The Department of Defense, on the other hand, has enlisted the help of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who says any more appropriations, regardless of how long they prolong federal spending, will contain a full-year appropriation for the DoD. The other agencies in the federal government do not have such a powerful supporter pushing their needs through the grueling process, and so they organize.
This sequence of events has been ongoing since President Obama submitted his FY 2011 proposal to Congress in February of 2010. Because Congress could not pass a full length budget before FY 2010 ended, they've resorted to these continuing resolutions to keep the federal government operating in a sort of holding pattern until further notice. Here's a recap of previous CRs:
PL 111-242, Oct 1 – Dec 3, 2010, 2010 Levels
PL 111-290, Dec 4 – Dec 18, 2010, 2010 Levels
PL 111-317, Dec 19 – 22, 2010, 2010 Levels
PL 111-322, Dec 23, 2010 – Mar 4, 2011, 2010 Levels
PL 112-4, Mar 5 – 18, 2011, $4 bn below 2010
PL 112-?, Mar 19 – Apr 8, 2011. $6 bn below 2010
The fundamental battle preventing the full Congress from passing a FY 2011 budget is how much to cut and from which areas of the budget. For the most part, members agree that the federal debt, swiftly approaching $14 trillion, is an issue to be addressed. What members cannot agree on, in a larger sense, is how to scale back our annual deficit and when to begin. Most politicians are loathe to increase taxes (and cut them in December), so raising income seems inprobable.
This means cutting services – and both Congress and the President have suggested that the vast majority of reductions and terminations should come from discretionary, non-security spending. This means money that Congress appropriates annually for programs unrelated to defense, veterans and homeland security. These programs represent a mere 13% of the budget and contain some of the most important low-income security programs, including Head Start, LIHEAP, and Section 8 housing. Put simply, we are almost $14 trillion in debt and the total proposed discretionary spending for FY 2012 is approximately $1.3 trillion.
Republicans in the House of Representatives have already released and passed their budget bill for the remained of FY 2011 – known as H.R. 1 – as of February 19. The Senate had test votes on the bill (to gauge support) and it did not pass; the President has also threatened to veto it. This spending proposal slices $100 billion from the Administration's FY 2011 budget (the one which has not passed) and cuts a variety of programs, including the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). A full list of cuts proposed may be found here.
As the clock winds down toward the end of the fiscal year, Republicans, after “shellacking” the Democrats during the miderm elections in November of 2010, are feeling the pressure on two fronts. First, they need to make good on their promise to cut $100 billion from the budget, and second, they need to prove they are capable of leading the country to fiscal responsibility and economic growth. The ticking clock and increasing public frustration may be the only forces great enough to overcome their insistance on House Resolution 1 or nothing.