Members of the House of Representatives had a busy day on Thursday. After a one-hour debate on the final 2011 Continuing Resolution (CR), a successful vote allayed the threat of a government shutdown once again. Wasting no time, the House immediately began debating the majority’s budget for 2012.
The House actions illustrate the intense planning and negotiations characterizing a budget debate that was left for too long, and has been compounded by a rapidly rising debt.
The vote followed the president’s landmark speech on fiscal responsibility April 13, and precedes this week’s expected debut of the Democrat’s proposed 2012 budget. When you take into account the president’s earlier 2012 budget request, that adds up to three budgets, one fiscal vision, and the 2011 CR—each filled with cuts and unique proposals—swirling around in the minds of lawmakers.
Thursday’s successful bipartisan House vote cuts nearly $40 billion in spending for this fiscal year. The cuts represent the largest annual spending cuts in the nation’s history, and will result in reduced budgets for hundreds of government programs and services.
During debate, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle complained of either too many or too few spending cuts, but ultimately, the bill passed because nobody wanted a government shutdown.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the press before the vote that each member of her caucus was free to vote as he or she felt appropriate, causing some to speculate whether there would be enough votes.
The continuing resolution, which funds the government through to September, had been agreed to at the eleventh hour last Friday between the president and bicameral leaders.
The $1 trillion dollar bill forces cuts in nearly every government agency.
“Every domestic initiative in the bill has had a cut,” said Pelosi.
Energy and water will see a 5 percent reduction from fiscal year 2010 levels. Financial services will be reduced by 10 percent. Homeland Security, 2 percent, and Department of the Interior, 8 percent. The largest reductions were reserved for the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), with a 16 percent decrease, and for the Department of Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development with a cut of 18 percent.
The EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases was one of the most controversial sticking points during the CR negotiations, with Republicans wanting that particular power revoked. Within the EPA cuts, the CR specifies a 13 percent reduction in climate change funding.
During a conference call today, EPA Secretary Lisa Jackson said the agency was still looking at the CR, but she didn’t think their ability to regulate harmful gases under the Clean Air Act would be directly impacted.
“The president’s 2012 budget request, as well as what we think we are seeing in the 2011 Continuing Resolution, indicates that there are not specific cuts to federal enforcement authorities,” she said.
Over 40 programs at the Department of Education will be cut in the CR, and students will be prevented from drawing down two Pell Grants at the same time, saving an estimated $35 billion over the next 10 years.
The CR also eliminates four key administration posts, referred to as “czars,” including a health czar, autos czar, climate change czar, and urban affairs czar.
The key vote was put at risk by an analysis released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that suggested that the final compromise would actually trim only $352 million in spending, with the rest of the cuts coming from “budget authority.”
Budget authority refers to the amount Congress authorizes federal banks to make available to the agencies.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) posted a “Myth Vs. Fact” sheet on his blog, which explained the CBO numbers to new members of his caucus: “The confusion is over the terms used by the CBO—and how they’ve been mangled by liberals determined to keep their spending binge alive.”
“By any reasonable standard, taking money away from someone so they can’t spend it is a cut—in this case, a cut of nearly $40 billion,” continued the blog post.
The winners in the CR are few, but noteworthy. Those who received increases include: the Corps of Engineers that protect the country from natural disasters ($58 mill); the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ($76 mill); National Institutes of Health buildings and facilities ($27 mill); Teaching of Traditional American History ($46 mill); Fund for improvements in education ($14 mill); overseas private investment corporation ($13 mill); railroad safety ($10 mill); Veterans Affairs supportive housing vouchers ($50 mill); HOPE IV, which revitalizes severely distressed public housing projects ($100 mill); and Native American Housing block grants ($70 mill).
The CR includes additional appropriations for the Department of Defense, with five billion added to their budget. The bill also authorized an additional $157.8 billion in emergency funding for the defense department’s overseas operations.
The House also passed two separate bills: one that would strip funding from planned parenthood organization and the other to end the Affordable Care Act.
The president’s office released a statement prior to the Senate vote. In it President Obama indicated that he supported the CR in its current form, and that he would oppose any changes to the bill offered by the Senate.
“[T]he administration strongly opposes any attempts to include language in the underlying bill that would deny funding for critical women’s health services or prohibit funding to implement the Affordable Care Act that is making health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans,” it stated.
Federal funding for family planning, which includes abortion, was one of the most contentious issue during negotiations leading up to the final CR agreement.
While Republicans wanted a nationwide ban, in the end, the CR included a ban on abortions funding only in the District of Columbia. Because D.C. does not operate as a state, Congress has the ability to dictate policies in the region.
The Senate voted on the CR the same day, passing it 81-19. Both of the separate House bills failed to pass.
Obama must sign the appropriations bill into law before midnight on Friday before the current one-week measure expires. He is fully expected to do so.