Created by on 04/08/2011

The bickering over the unfinished fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget continued to dominate the legislative agenda on Capitol Hill over the last few weeks as the threat of the first government shut down since 1996 became increasingly likely. Democrats and Republicans traded heated rhetoric and accusations of partisanship while House and Senate leadership engaged in high-level negotiations in an attempt to reach a final agreement on FY 2011 spending. At press time, the budget situation remained unresolved, and the federal government appeared to be on the brink of shutting down at midnight on April 8th.  
Congress’s latest failure to agree on an FY 2011 budget followed months of arguing about funding levels and priorities. The most recent action took place on March 17th when both the House and Senate passed a sixth (H J Res 48) FY 2011 short-term “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep the federal government funded beyond the March 18th expiration of the previously enacted measure (H J Res 44). H J Res 48 extended funding through April 8, 2011 and was approved by a House vote of 271 – 158. Reflecting the growing impatience with funding the government two weeks at a time, 54 Republicans opposed the measure (by contrast, only six Republicans opposed H J Res 44).  Following passage of H J Res 48, the House Republican leadership went on record stating that it would be the last short-term CR to be considered in that chamber. The Senate passed H J Res 48 on an 87 – 13 vote, with nine Republicans in that chamber refusing to support the legislation. Although the CR slashed six billion from FY 2010 funding levels for several agencies through a combination of program terminations/reductions and the elimination of earmarks, it did not cut funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) or the Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE SC).
Having agreed on another CR, members of Congress returned to their districts on March 21st for a week-long break. As they left the nation’s capitol, lawmakers remained more than $50 billion apart on the level of spending they would support, with Republicans favoring the higher amount of cuts that were included in HR 1 and Democrats insisting on a smaller level of reductions. Returning to Washington on March 28th, the congressional leadership and the Chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees resumed their negotiations and took part in meetings at the White House with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in an attempt to reach a final deal on the FY 2011 budget.
With hopes for a budget deal fading, federal agencies began preparing for a shut down beginning on April 9th, and the House Administration Committee distributed instructions to all House offices explaining the mechanics of a congressional work-stoppage. In a move to avoid being blamed for shutting down the government, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced a 7th CR (HR 1363) on April 4th to fund the federal government for an additional week (through April 15th). HR 1363 cut a total of $12 billion in discretionary spending and also included funding for the Department of Defense for the remainder of FY 2011. The 7th CR cut $2.5 billion for several programs funded by the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill but did not reduce funding for NIH. In addition, it included no cuts to NSF or the Veterans Administration Medical and Prosthetics Research Program. However the National Institute of Food and Agriculture sustained a $13.7 million cut in its Integrated Activities programs, and $7.2 million was rescinded from unspent prior year appropriations for DoE SC. Despite initial uncertainty about the level of support for HR 1363, the House passed the bill 247 -181 on April 7th. Final enactment of the bill appeared unlikely, however, as Senate Democrats indicated that they would not consider another short term measure and the White House threatened to veto the bill should it come to the President. The Democrats’ opposition was due in part to the depth of the cuts to non-security discretionary spending and to a policy rider prohibiting the use of local funds for abortions in Washington, DC.
Amid the backdrop of the unresolved FY 2011 situation, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released the Republican FY 2012 “Budget Resolution” (the overall budget blueprint). Titled “The Path to Prosperity,” it proposes to cut $6.2 trillion in spending from the Obama FY 2012 request over the next ten, reduces the debt as a percentage of the economy, and puts the nation on a path to pay off the national debt. The plan would bring federal spending to below 20 percent of gross domestic product and reduces deficits by $4.4 trillion. It also reduces domestic discretionary funding (which supports agencies including NIH and NSF) to below 2008 levels and freezes this category of spending for five years. After an all day session, the House Budget Committee passed Chairman Ryan’s proposal on April 6th along a strictly party line vote (22-16). During the committee debate, several Democratic amendments were rejected, including one by Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) that would have provided a $1.63 billion increase in budget authority for FY 2012 to ensure that the resolution would not require cuts to the NIH budget. The full House is expected to debate the “Budget Resolution” the week of April 11th (assuming the government is open).