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Archive for the ‘Appropriations/Budget’ Category

Debt Limit Suspended Until Next Year, But Not Without a Fight

Monday, February 17th, 2014

The debt limit. Some regard it as an outdated concept. Others think it’s a last chance to control the federal government’s bloated spending.

The debt limit or “debt ceiling” means the federal government can’t go into debt any further than Congress allows. And Congress has allowed more and more debt over years, as the chart on the right shows.

Last week, Congress suspended the debt limit until the spring of 2015. The new debt limit will be set on March 16th, 2015, at the amount of debt the government has run up by that time.

This idea was pretty well agreed upon by the leadership of the House and Senate, which did not want a fight. But it wasn’t agreed to by everyone. And Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) used Senate rules to expose some of his colleagues for allowing what he sees as a get-along go-along deal.

If nobody objects, a bill like S. 540, the Temporary Debt Limit Extension Act, can sail through the Senate without a vote at all. But if someone objects, they can require votes, including a thing called a “cloture” vote, which requires three-fifths of senators, or 60 votes, to approve. It’s a vote on ending debate and proceeding with a bill, so it says, “Yeah, I’d be alright with this bill passing.”

The 60-vote requirement means that some Republicans would have to vote for cloture. They would have to be alright with suspending the debt limit and, in the view of some, letting the government’s spending continue.

Senator Cruz doesn’t think Republicans should be letting that happen, so he used these Senate rules to put his colleagues on the record with a vote.

The results of the cloture vote are here. Just getting to 60 votes would have caused one or two senators to be exposed as providing the crucial vote that allowed the debt limit to be suspended, so the vote was held open while big numbers of Republicans were persuaded to vote this way.

And the Republican senators who backed the cloture on S. 540 were:

John Barrasso (WY)
Susan Collins (ME)
Bob Corker (TN)
John Cornyn (TX)
Jeff Flake (AZ)
Orrin Hatch (UT)
Mike Johanns (NE)
Mark Kirk (IL)
John McCain (AZ)
Mitch McConnell (KY)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
John Thune (SD)

None of them voted in favor of the bill on the final vote. They just helped it clear the last big hurdle before the final vote.

So will they suffer the repercussions Senator Cruz thinks should meet a Republican who compromises on spending? That depends on the voters in their states. That depends on you.

(In the past, Republicans have sought to win spending constraints from debates about the debt ceiling. For a time, though, this bill was going to have some spending increases in it—reversing a reduction in the cost‐of‐living adjustment for military retirees. Because that plan to spend about $60 per family was also going to extend sequester-like spending controls to 2024, it was going to total about $10 in spending per U.S. family. In the end, it was a “clean” bill—no new spending or spending cuts.)

Alright, enough of the politics. It’s time to take your medicine. Here’s some recent history of the debt ceiling:

The federal government reached the debt limit on May 16, 2011, prompting then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to declare a “debt issuance suspension period,” allowing certain extraordinary measures to extend Treasury’s borrowing capacity.

On August 2, 2011, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 (Public Law 112-25), which tried to reduce spending while allowing the debt limit to rise between $2,100 billion and $2,400 billion in three stages.

Once the Budget Control Act was enacted, presidential certifications triggered a $400 billion increase, raising the debt limit to $14,694 billion, and then a second $500 billion increase on September 22, 2011. A disapproval measure for this increase (H.J. Res. 77) only passed the House. A January 12, 2012, presidential certification triggered a third, $1.2 trillion increase in the debt, while the House passed another disapproval measure (H.J. Res. 98).

The federal debt again reached its limit on December 31, 2012, and extraordinary measures were then used to allow payment of government obligations until February 4, 2013, when Public Law 113-3, the “No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013,” suspended the debt limit until May 19, 2013. As of May 19, the debt limit was set at $16,699 billion and extraordinary measures were again employed.

On September 25, 2013, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew notified Congress that the government would exhaust its borrowing capacity around October 17. The U.S. Treasury would then have a cash balance of only $30 billion. In Public Law 113-46, the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014, Congress suspended the debt limit again, until February 7, 2014. Those “extraordinary measures” kept things going until the votes in the House and Senate this past week on S. 540, the Temporary Debt Limit Extension Act.

So that’s the story on the debt ceiling. You’re going to win “Mr./Ms. Conversational” with that info at your next cocktail party!

Here’s the current vote on it among WashingtonWatch.com users. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the bill.

Spending Deal Do-Overs!

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

When you were a kid, of course, you asked for do-overs. Things go wrong sometimes! Take it back! Maybe now that you’re a grown-up and a golfer, you call it a mulligan.

That’s what the Senate will deal with this coming week. A do-over!

The bill is S. 1963, and it would repeal section 403 of Public Law 112-76, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. The text of the bill is blessedly brief. It’s one you can read!

Section 403 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (Public Law 113-67) is repealed as of the date of the enactment of such Act.

Section 403 cut military pensions to the tune of $6 billion, and S. 1963 is meant to restore that spending. (We don’t have an official cost estimate, but $6 billion is about $59 per U.S. family.)

The bill is sponsored by Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR), and only fellow Democrats have co-sponsored it, which is a surprise because many Republicans are big fans of military spending and spending that honors the sacrifices of military veterans.

Pryor voted “yes” on the Bipartisan Budget Act even though it had the provision he’s now trying to cut out. This is either because the bill was too important to oppose based on the cut to military pensions, or because he didn’t know the military pension cuts were in there.

Joining Pryor on “team do-over”—all of these cosponsors voted for the bill they are now trying to change—are Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

So, should “team do-over” get to take back the spending cuts in that bill they recently passed? That, as always, is up to you.

Here’s the current vote on S. 1963, a bill to repeal section 403 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

It’s a Spending Week

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Nobody seems to want to fight about it, so you won’t hear much in the news, but this is a spending week in Washington, D.C.

Back when the 2014 fiscal year began in October, Congress hadn’t passed its regular spending bills, so it had to produce a continuing resolution. Public Law 113-46, the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014, spent the money (about $11,000 per family) to run the government until January 15, 2014. That’s this coming Wednesday.

They still haven’t come with a plan for funding the government yet, so here’s what’s going to happen this week:

By Wednesday, Congress will probably pass H. J. Res. 106. That bill extends funding of the government for three days, until January 18th.

Meantime, House and Senate negotiators will try to figure out a longer-term spending plan. That bill, assuming it materializes, will have to be passed by Saturday.

What kind of spending is involved?

Well, three days of running the federal government costs about $10 billion dollars. That’s actually just the spending that isn’t automatic—they call it “discretionary” spending. If you include “mandatory” spending—that’s the spending that Congress has made automatic—three days of the federal government is about $31 billion.

Anyway, the three days of discretionary spending in H. J. Res. 106 is about $96 per U.S. family.

If Congress passes a spending bill that goes for the rest of the year, that’s about $867 billion in discretionary spending, or $8,000 per family. The full cost of the government for the remaining 255 days of the year is $2.6 trillion.

Want to understand more about all this? Check out “A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget” from the National Priorities Project. It was your summer reading assignment, in case you missed it!

Here’s the current vote on H. J. Res. 106, that three-day spending bill. Do you want it to pass? Or do you think the government should shut down while Congress figures out how to spend? Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

The FY 2014 Spending Debate is NOT OVER

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

The mainstream media’s reporting on budgeting and spending is so poor that most people think the spending debate for 2014 is over. Far from it.

When Congress passed H.J. Res. 59, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, that set spending amounts for the rest of the 2014 fiscal year and for the 2015 fiscal year, easing up on the constraints of sequestration. As we reported before, the expanded budget will increase spending by roughly $550 per U.S. family, or $175 per person.

But the budget is not the spending! The FY 2014 spending debate is not over!

H.J. Res. 59 did include some amendments to existing law that lowered spending some and raised some revenue. It saves about $107 per U.S. family and decreases each family’s share of the $170,000 national debt by just under $580.

But Congress must still produce a spending bill before the expiration of the current continuing resolution on January 15th. If it doesn’t, the government will shut down. The amounts in that bill—that “omnibus appropriation,” in the D.C. lingo—will determine what the government is going to spend in fiscal 2014.

We aren’t big on conspiracy theories around here. Incompetence is usually the better explanation than malice. But the mainstream press has pretty uniformly misrepresented what’s going on here.

Here’s an example of inaccurate reporting about budgeting and spending, chosen with a quick Web search (not because we don’t like the author or his news outfit). Bloomberg news reported on December 15th, “The budget deal … would avoid a partial government shutdown when spending authority expires Jan. 15. It funds the government for the 2014 fiscal year that began Oct.1 and for the 2015 fiscal year.”

This stuff is just not true. The budget deal set spending amounts for fiscal 2014 and 2015, tweaking some spending and taxing here and there.

Maybe there are indirect ways that the deal ultimately passed as H.J. Res. 59 alleviated the threat of a shutdown—good feelings among Republican and Democratic spending honchos, for example. But in no sense did it avoid a shutdown. It was a deal between the House and Senate budget committee chairs, Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Patty Murray (D-WA). They aren’t the ones responsible for spending bills. Those are the appropriations committee chairs, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) in the House and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in the Senate.

The spending debate for fiscal year 2014 is not over. In early 2014, Congress is going to produce a spending bill, and it is going to try to pass a spending bill—probably very quickly. If you care about these things, don’t let the insufficient news reporting lull you into thinking the spending debate is over.

The Budget Deal is a Budget Deal and a Spending Deal

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Contrary to expectations, Congress came up with a budget deal last week. The House passed it, and the Senate is expected to debate and pass H.J. Res. 59 early this coming week.

First, let’s review how wrong we were last week to assume a budget deal wouldn’t happen. In our fancy little blog post, “‘Unproductive’—And Gonna Stay That Way!“, we predicted that Congress was not going to come up with a budget deal, even though it assigned itself the task in the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014 back in October. By golly, they went ahead and came up with a deal. We were wrong.

Produced by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee chairman Patty Murray (D-WA), it is kind of a budget deal and kind of a spending deal. We’d better talk about that some, because it’s a little difficult to understand.

A budget is a plan for spending. It’s the roadmap you’re laying out for the future. Spending is when you lay out the actual money. There’s some budgeting and some spending in this bill.

The budget part of the deal eases the limits on spending for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 that had been put in place by sequestration. Assuming spending rises to meet the limits allowed by this budget change, which is a good assumption, spending will be roughly $62 billion higher over the 2014-2023 period. That’s an increase in spending of roughly $550 per U.S. family, or $175 per person.

That spending won’t happen with the passage of this budget, though. It requires a spending bill to be passed before January 16, 2014, when temporary funding for the government under the current continuing resolution expires. Watch for that bill to come up and move quickly when Congress returns in January.

Then there’s the spending part of the deal. It does affect current spending programs, resulting in cuts overall. There are sections in the bill on “prevention of waste, fraud, and abuse”, on natural resources, federal civilian and military retirement, higher education, and transportation. The spending cuts across these areas amount to some $50 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

There is also an entire section that increases spending in the Medicare system on reimbursement of doctors—in the short term, at least. It promises cuts in spending again in the out years, but the chance of those cuts being implemented is fairly low. That section reduces the spending cuts in the other areas.

There are revenue measures in the bill—taxes, if you prefer. About $35 billion in new revenues for the government, coming from various places, including a surcharge on airline tickets to pay for those TSA pat-downs.

On the whole, the budget part of the deal allows for increased spending of $550 per U.S. family in the future. The spending part of the deal will save about $100 per U.S. family, while reducing the federal debt by about $575 per U.S. family.

It’s up to you to decide whether you think this is a good deal or a bad deal. There are a lot of moving parts to the debate. We think focusing on where the money moves might be helpful. So give it some thought, let your member of Congress and senators know what you think, and be sure to vote and comment on the bill here on WashingtonWatch.com so other people can know how you think things should turn out.

Here’s the current vote on H.J. Res. 59. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the bill.

You’re Ignorant and They Know It

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

This past weekend, there was a telling discussion on Fox News Sunday. It shows that your ignorance of congressional spending processes is widely known.

If you’re like most people, you don’t know how to oversee your member of Congress and senators on spending issues. That’s why spending politics are so disorderly.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) was Chris Wallace’s guest along with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). In the aftermath of the government shutdown, Blunt tried to draw attention to the failure of the Senate this summer to pass any bills to fund the government in fiscal 2014.

BLUNT: [T]he unwritten story about the shutdown was that we were at the last day of the spending year, and not a single appropriations bill had passed the Senate of the 12 it need to fund the government. Only one of them had been brought to the floor, and it was the one — it was one that the majority leader knew couldn’t pass.

WALLACE: Well, I don’t — let me go back to taxes, because I do think that always seems to be the big problem here. Senator Durbin, why is it any different than Republicans refuse to raise revenues, than President Obama’s refusal to make in changes in ObamaCare.

DURBIN: Let me just tell you this before we go any further. I want to correct the record for Roy.

The one appropriation record that we brought to the floor, the transportation bill [S. 1243], was a bipartisan bill — Senator Murray, Senator Collins. When we brought it up for a vote to go forward, with the only appropriations bill we brought to the floor, Senator Blunt and all of the Republicans, except Senator Collins, voted against going forward on the bill.

So, don’t criticize us. We tried to move forward on appropriations bill.

WALLACE: OK. You guys are so far beyond what most people know or I think care about.

For a brief, shining moment, there was the possibility of holding the Senate accountable for not following the established processes that fund the government and that permit debate and better public oversight of spending. Perhaps also the chance to hold Senate Republicans accountable for obstructing things. But Chris Wallace cut it off, believing that most people aren’t interested.

In case you want to do your duty overseeing the government during the fiscal 2105 budget and spending cycle, you should know that the president is supposed to produce a budget on the first Monday in January February [oops! - ignorant...]. The House and Senate are supposed to negotiate a budget resolution by April 15th, which forms the basis for the appropriations (that is, spending) bills that are debated and passed through the summer. If that doesn’t happen, they should hear about it from you.

If you pay attention is to these processes in 2014, and if people like Chris Wallace discover that people like you care, it’s almost a sure thing that Congress will handle its spending decisions better.

Shutdown Over!

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Late Wednesday this past week, the House and Senate passed a bill to reopen the parts of the government that were closed in the shutdown.

H.R. 2775 was the bill. Originally a bill to require verification of household income for people receiving health insurance subsidies under Obamacare, it became the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014.

President Obama signed it on Thursday, making it Public Law 113-46.

So what does it do?

  • Most importantly, it funds the federal government until January 15, 2014 at the same level as in fiscal year 2013. That’s about $11,200 per U.S. family in spending.
  • It also suspends the limit on the federal government’s debt until February 7, 2014. (Coincidentally, the debt topped $17 trillion this week—about $168,000 per U.S. family, or nearly $54,000 per person.)
  • The act sets up a process for verifying the incomes of people who apply for health insurance subsidies under Obamacare, the topic of the original version of the bill.
  • It provides back pay to the 800,000 government workers who were furloughed during the shutdown.
  • It also creates a joint budget conference to work on possible compromises and report back to Congress by December 13, 2013. (Editorial: This will fail.)
  • There are a number of spending items in the bill. The United States Army Corps of Engineers was granted an authorization increase of $2.2 billion in funding to improve a series of locks and dams on the Illinois-Kentucky border. Another $450 million was allocated to help repair the damage in Colorado from the 2013 Colorado floods. The United States Department of the Interior got $36 million and the United States Forest Service $600 million to cover fighting forest fires and their damage.
  • The law also provides a payment of $174,000 to Bonnie Lautenberg, the widow of Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who died this year.
  • The act allows Congress to enact a “disapproval” resolution that would end the suspension of the debt ceiling. (Editorial: It won’t.)
  • The act extends the sunset date on the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act one year, to Dec. 8, 2015.
  • And, notably, it declines to block President Obama’s proposal for a one percent pay increase for most federal civilian employees on January 1, 2014. The raise, coming after a three-year federal pay freeze, was proposed by President Obama in August 2013 and automatically goes into effect unless blocked by Congressional budget legislation.

Now, about those editorial comments.

Congress won’t pass a resolution disapproving and ending the suspension of the debt ceiling. The Senate’s majority does not want the debt limit to constrain federal spending, so it will bottle up any resolution to do so.

The budget conference won’t materially change budget debates. Republicans and Democrats are just too far apart, and neither one sees more political benefit in compromising. It’s a reunion of the “supercommittee,” which failed last year.

So the end of the government shutdown and the suspension of the debt ceiling set the date for the next dance: early 2014.

Happy re-opening of the federal government! See you early next year for the next round!

From Shutdown to Debt Limit

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

The government shutdown that began when the House and Senate couldn’t agree on federal spending for fiscal year 2014 continues. It’s an odd shutdown, as we noted last week, but it is what it is.

The House continues to introduce and pass “mini-CRs”—continuing resolutions that temporarily fund small parts of the government. The latest examples: H. J. Res. 90, The Federal Aviation Administration Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014; H. J. Res. 91, The Department of Defense Survivor Benefits Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014; H. J. Res. 92, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014; and H. J. Res. 93, The Mine Safety and Health Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014.

But a new dimension on the action has emerged: the debt limit.

Federal law limits how far into debt the U.S. government may go, and the government has regularly bumped up against this limit. Earlier this year, though, the No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013 suspended the debt ceiling from February 4, 2013 until May 19, 2013.

On May 19, the debt ceiling was formally raised to approximately $16.699 trillion to accommodate the borrowing done during the suspension period. The ceiling was raised only to the actual debt at that time, and the Treasury Department had to take extraordinary measures to continue paying the government’s bills. Treasury predicts that these measures will allow the government to pay out on its obligations until October 17, though other estimates differ.

So Congress is considering lifting the debt ceiling once more. The latest debate occurred last week in the Senate. The debate there was all about you.

Here’s what that means: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed a debt limit suspension similar to the prior one, but this would go until December 31, 2014. What’s important about that date is that it’s beyond the next election. Majority Leader Reid wants to have debt limit debates without the pressure of a pending election hanging over that debate. He wants less pressure (in either direction) from you.

Senate Republicans want the opposite. They think the next debt limit debate should happen with election pressures mounting.

So last week, Senate Republicans refused to allow continued debate on S. 1569, the Default Prevention Act of 2013. (The Senate’s “cloture” rule requires 60 votes, which means Republican support, for debate to continue.) Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) prefer a debt limit suspension until January 31, 2014. That means more election pressure hanging over the debate because there’s an election the following November.

So the federal government is nearing the limit of its ability to take on new debt. There is argument about whether this means a default, in which the United States government stops paying creditors, or just disorganized cuts in other payments the government is required to pay.

As always, it’s up to you to decide what should happen here, and to communicate your wishes to your elected representatives.

The Non-Shutdown, the Super-Shutdown, and the House’s Latest Tactic

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

A week in, it’s on odd federal government shutdown, that’s for sure. In some respects, it’s less of a shutdown than it seems, and in others, it’s more of a shutdown. The House has a plan. We’ll see what comes of that.

By one account—a Republican Senate Budget Committee source—as much as 87% of the government is actually up and running. That’s when you measure in dollars. It’s not that much of a shutdown.

The non-shutdown is due in part to the fact that some spending, such as entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, operate under permanent spending authority. There is no need for Congress to pass annual appropriations bills to keep these programs running, so they’re not shut down.

Also, on the eve of the shutdown Congress passed and the president signed H.R. 3210, the Pay Our Military Act. That law funds the military during any period without regular authority to spend. There’s another big chunk of the federal government not shut down.

Meanwhile, there’s a super-shutdown going on. Some government workers aren’t staying home. They’re on the job, barricading public parks and national forests, a policy that has raised accusations that the government is trying to maximize Americans’ discomfort.

The Iwo Jima memorial, for example, is a patch of grass ringed by a road. At any given hour on any given day, you wouldn’t find a federal employee anywhere. A government shutdown would mean the grass goes uncut and some maintenance wouldn’t be done. It shouldn’t mean that veterans can’t visit the iconic statue representing World War II victory in the Pacific. That’s apparently why the Syracuse Honor Flight pushed the barricades aside and visited the memorial as they pleased.

States and localities are offering to pick up the slack at national parks, and meeting with mixed results.

Meanwhile, the standoff between the House and the Senate and president continues. The latest tactic the House is adopting takes a page from the Pay Our Military Act: it’s introducing and passing bills that fund parts of the government that seem to matter most.

The politics are interesting. Passing a lot of bills to fund the more popular government programs helps the House make the case that they are trying to keep the government open and that it is the Democrats and President Obama holding the government “hostage” to get what they want in the Obamacare debate. That’s a hard case to make, though, and House Republicans are in the weaker position.

As always, it’s up to you.

Here’s a list of those bills and their spending per U.S. family, where available. You can make your thoughts known by voting and commenting on the bills and by editing the wiki articles about them:

H.R. 3230, The Pay Our Guard and Reserve Actspends $45 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 70, The National Park Service Operations, Smithsonian Institution, National Gallery of Art, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $22.50 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 71, The District of Columbia Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014

H. J. Res. 72, The Veterans Benefits Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $21 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 73, The National Institutes of Health Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $72 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 74, The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014

H. J. Res. 75, The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $52 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 76, The National Nuclear Security Administration Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $65 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 77, The Food and Drug Administration Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $10 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 78, The National Intelligence Program Operations Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014

H. J. Res. 79, The Border Security and Enforcement Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $118 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 80, The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education, and Indian Health Service Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $48 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 81, Making continuing appropriations for the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Office of Environmental Management of the Department of Energy for fiscal year 2014, and for other purposes

H. J. Res. 82, The National Weather Service Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $5.50 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 83, The Impact Aid Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $10 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 84, The Head Start Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $40 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 85, The Federal Emergency Management Agency Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014spends $106 per U.S. family

H. J. Res. 86, The Consumer Product Safety Commission Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014

H. J. Res. 87, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014

H. J. Res. 88, Making continuing appropriations for operations of the United States Military Academy, the United States Naval Academy, the United States Air Force Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, and the United States Merchant Marine Academy for fiscal year 2014

It’s a Shutdown, Then!

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

So it’s going to be a government shutdown. At the end of the day Monday, the Treasury Department’s authority to spend money to fund the operations of government will expire. How did we get here?

First, Congress didn’t pass any of the ordinary spending bills, as it’s supposed to do in the summer. Oh, it seemed like Congress might follow the schedule early in the year, but progress quickly halted. The new fiscal year starts Tuesday, October 1st.

So two Fridays ago (September 20th), the House passed a “continuing resolution” (H.J. Res. 59) that would fund the government until December 15th. It also defunded Obamacare.

“No deal!” said the Senate, which sent the bill back, stripped of the provisions defunding Obamacare. It would have paid for the government’s operations until November 15th.

So on Saturday, with about 48 hours to go before the end of the fiscal year, the House sent the bill back to the Senate. The latest version would fund the government through December 15th, and it would delay the individual mandate in Obamacare and the insurance exchanges, which are currently supposed to go into operation on Tuesday. It would also eliminate a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices that helps to pay for Obamacare.

The White House has threatened to veto that bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says that the bill will die in the Senate.

The last word was that the Senate’s leaders want to pass a “clean” continuing resolution in the afternoon on Monday, forcing the House to pass the Senate’s latest version or take responsibility for the shutdown starting at midnight Monday night.

But just how shut is shutdown?

“Essential” services of the government stay up and running during a shutdown, and on Friday the New York Times published a graphic showing how many workers in what agencies would be furloughed.

Ninety-seven percent of NASA’s 18,134 workers would stay home. But the scientists on the international space station would keep working. They are, after all, not in a position to take some days off.

At the opposite extreme is the Veterans Administration, which has 332,025 workers. Only 4% of them would be furloughed. Your VA nurses will still be working.

The Defense Department splits right down the middle, with half its workers deemed non-essential. The times reports that the military’s environmental engineers would stay home. Military recruiters stay on the job.

Incidentally, the House passed H.R. 3210 early Sunday morning, a bill to continue spending on military pay in the event of a government shutdown.

So a government shutdown is a mess, but Congress walks up to that cliff nearly every year. It’s been a decade since Congress passed a budget on time, according to the National Priorities Project’s post last week, “Government Shutdown is a Failure of Democracy.” A shutdown is upon us, and it’s something like business as usual for the federal government.