What Congress has to do to avert a late-March government shutdown
Political leaders on both sides of the aisle stressed on Tuesday a commitment to reach a budget deal that avoids a government shutdown after March 27, when funding expires. But they are at the starting line.
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What could muddy the waters? In the House, a crew of conservative Republicans led by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) of Kansas sent a letter to GOP leaders asking for the House government funding bill to defund parts of Mr. Obama’s health-care reform law. In the Senate, Democratic lawmakers are queasy about acquiescing to indiscriminate cuts in social programs and domestic priorities, Mikulski said.Skip to next paragraph
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Both Mikulski and Rogers have opted to accept to the reality of the sequester by writing legislation that does not alter the amount of cuts to come.
Instead, leaders in both chambers (which include Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) and Senate Republicans including Mr. McConnell and the Appropriations Committee's Richard Shelby of Alabama) are discussing how much money can be moved around within the budgets of the Pentagon, veterans affairs, border security, government research, and social programs to mitigate the worst of the sequester cuts.
The House bill, expected to pass on Wednesday, primarily protects the federal budget accounts that fund military operations and maintenance, and veterans programs. In addition, the Rogers bill provides extra protection to ensure the safety of nuclear weapons stockpiles, money to fight wildfires in the West, and funds for embassy security and border security personnel.
McConnell said he expected Democrats to put their “imprint” on the House-passed measure. Indeed, Mikulski appears ready to do that in the days to come.
“The content [of the House bill] is too spartan for us because it does not include [flexibility for] domestic priorities,” Mikulski said Tuesday.
What’s unclear is what, exactly, Mikulski will try to safeguard – and whether her tweaks can achieve enough GOP support to overcome a potential filibuster.
“We don’t have a framework,” she said. “What we do have is a will.”
That same will was not evident in 2012’s bitterly partisan, election-year session of Congress, meaning there's no consensus on policy and spending changes for most government spending this fiscal year. Lawmakers did reach accord on a Pentagon spending bill and on authorization for veterans programs and military construction, so those changes have been adapted into the House government funding resolution.
But for the vast majority of the federal government’s operations, time is too short between Tuesday and March 27 for lawmakers to hammer out a comprehensive compromise. That means the sequester cuts, decried by members of both parties during the campaign, will hit nearly all government functions, despite the efforts of Rogers and Mikulski.
“In so many ways, our failure to do our work is catching up with us,” says Sen. Roy Blunt (R) of Missouri. “Many of our government agencies, because of no appropriations bills and continuing resolutions, are working on priorities that were their priorities two, three, four years ago.”
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