Update from Washington, D.C. 03/18/2011
As reported in the lead article of this edition of E-Pub, the
National Association of Counties (NACo) held its annual
legislative conference March 5-9 in Washington, D.C. Over 100
California county officials traveled to our nation’s capital to
attend the convention, including the CSAC leadership team.
California county officials found the halls of Congress humming with activity the week of March 7 as lawmakers continued to focus on the funding bills for fiscal 2011. The federal government continues to operate on a series of continuing resolutions (CR) as Congress has been unable to finish any of this year’s appropriations bills. The current fiscal year began last October 1.
In the ongoing struggle to finalize a long-term CR for this year, the House approved last month legislation (HR 1) that would have shaved about $62 billion from current spending. The bill, which would fund the government through September 30, received a chilly reception from Senate Democrats. As expected, the Senate rejected HR 1 on March 9, as well as the Democratic alternative, which called for a more modest $4.7 billion in spending cuts.
In contrast to HR 1, the two-week CR (H J Res 44) that passed Congress earlier this month does not contain some of the more controversial policy issues that were included in the longer-term package. The stopgap funding measure, which expires on March 18, eliminated a number of fiscal 2010 congressional earmarks, including a number of transportation projects.
With the expiration of the short-term CR quickly approaching, the House cleared March 15 the sixth round of stopgap funding (H J Res 48) that will last through April 8. The measure, which passed by a vote of 271-158, slices $6 billion from the federal government’s current budget. For its part, the Senate approved the spending package March 17 by a vote of 87-13. President Obama is expected to sign the measure by Friday in order to avoid a government shutdown.
Nearly one-third of the $6 billion cut comes from revoking dollars that were not needed for the 2010 census. Overall, H J Res 48 reduces or terminates a total of 25 programs for a savings of $3.5 billion. Lawmakers also realized savings by canceling congressional earmarks in the fiscal 2010 appropriations bills, including several accounts funded under the Justice and Interior subcommittee jurisdictions.
The short-term CR gives the Obama administration and congressional leaders some breathing room as they continue to negotiate a longer-term budget deal for fiscal 2011. While there is some optimism surrounding the budget talks, House GOP leaders will be pressed by conservatives in the lower chamber to slash at least $50 billion more from the spending bills.
In a possible break through, key members of Congress from both parties have signaled that the latest stopgap spending measure will be the final short-term CR this fiscal year, increasing chances for a longer-term funding package within the next few weeks. However, key lawmakers continue to wrangle over which areas of the budget should be targeted for reductions.
While a possible budget agreement may be on the horizon, conservatives have their sights set on dismantling parts of President Obama’s domestic policy agenda, including the controversial health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152). Lacking other viable options, they are using the fiscal 2011 appropriations bills as the vehicle to try to make major policy changes.
In other developments, 23 Republican senators sent a letter March 16 to President Obama calling for him to spearhead efforts to reform entitlement programs. The GOP lawmakers threatened to block an increase in the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit if the president fails to take the lead on the politically volatile issue.
On the other side of the Capitol, House Republican leaders are expected to factor in savings from a reform of entitlement programs in their fiscal 2012 budget resolution. It is not clear if GOP budget chiefs will unveil specific details on their proposed modifications to the entitlement programs, as policy changes would be made by other committees who have jurisdiction over the programs.
In addition to restructuring Social Security and Medicare, Medicaid reform also would be on the table. Of course, any significant changes to Medicaid could have a major impact on state and local governments.