Update from Washington, D.C. 01/28/2011
President Obama delivered his State of the Union address on
Tuesday, January 25 before a joint session of Congress. Taking
place just over two weeks after the tragic shooting that occurred
in Tucson, Arizona, the president delivered a speech designed in
part to encourage bipartisanship and a more civic tone in the
In his hour-long address, President Obama urged the new Congress to work on issues such as modifying the corporate tax code, overhauling federal education standards, immigration reform, and reauthorization of transportation programs. Republicans quickly responded to the president’s speech claiming that the administration’s proposals will further increase the national debt.
In a surprise announcement, the president also vowed to veto any legislation containing congressional earmarks. Key Senate Democrats apparently were caught off-guard by the president’s earmark comment, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) portraying the president’s earmark ban as a power struggle between the executive and legislative branch. To be sure, Democrats will likely face an uphill battle if they want to set aside money for projects back home. With Republicans supporting the earmark ban and President Obama’s veto threat, it will be difficult for lawmakers to specifically direct spending for their state and local projects.
Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, delivered the Republican Party’s official response, while Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann (R-MN) provided additional reaction to the president’s address. Much of the GOP response focused on the financial challenges facing the nation and the need to reduce spending and grow the economy.
In budget-related developments, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CB0), the federal budget deficit will reach $1.5 trillion this year. The CBO noted that the $1.5 trillion deficit would equal 9.8 percent of the economy, making it one of the largest since the end of World II. As expected, the recent budget news from CBO has added fuel to the fire in the ever-contentious debate on the nation’s financial woes.
As expected, House Republicans moved to significantly reduce federal expenses by approving the week of January 25 a budget cap that will roll back spending to fiscal year 2008 levels. The budget resolution (H Res 38) authorizes Budget Committee Chairman Ryan to set discretionary spending levels at or below fiscal year 2008 levels when he establishes the budget ceiling for the next fiscal year 2011 funding bill. The measure was adopted by a vote of 256-165, and garnered support from 17 fiscally conservative Democrats.
Unable to complete any of 12 appropriations bills last Congress, policymakers have had to pass several continuing resolutions (CR) since the start of fiscal year 2011 (October 1, 2010). Currently, the federal government is operating on a CR (PL 111-322), which is set to expire on March 4. With only weeks left before the early March deadline, lawmakers have a very limited timeframe to work on a compromise package. To expedite matters, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has scheduled a vote on the spending bill for the week of February 14, which is when the Obama administration is expected to release its fiscal year 2012 budget request.
The GOP’s proposal to rescind non-security spending amounts to fiscal year 2008 levels will be a thorny issue with Democrats, as well as members from within their own party. Tea Party affiliates are expected to put pressure on Republicans to roll back spending even further to fiscal year 2006 levels, as promised during last year’s campaign. Either way, deep cuts are expected for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. It is expected that the House will cut up to $60 billion from a wide variety of federal programs. The Senate and Administration are sure to reject such deep reductions.
In other developments, the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act (HR 2) passed swiftly through the House on January 19 by a vote of 245-189. The bill aims to essentially abolish the health care reform law approved by Congress last year.
While the repeal sailed through the House, it is highly unlikely to see any significant action in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Although the repeal measure is seen as a mostly a symbolic move, Republican lawmakers are planning to chip away at the health care law on other fronts, such as restricting spending on discretionary programs enacted in the bill, and limiting funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, which serves as the primary executor of many of the health care regulations.