Lawmakers Edge Closer to Possible Agreement on Federal Budget Bill

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On Wednesday, the White House and congressional leaders signaled they are closer to a possible agreement on a continuing resolution budget bill that would fund the federal government through September and avert a government shutdown, the Washington Post reports.

However, there remains a divide over whether to include a number of policy riders in the spending package, including two that would defund the federal health reform law and Planned Parenthood (Kane, Washington Post, 3/30).

Details of Budget Negotiations

In recent weeks, lawmakers have been unable to reach a compromise on the amount of spending cuts to health care and other programs in a longer term fiscal year 2011 CR budget measure, which Congress must approve before the current stopgap CR expires on April 8 and the government faces a shutdown.

Like the previous stopgap CR, the current stopgap CR does not block funds for the implementation of the federal health reform law. Some Republicans have said that they will seek provisions in the longer term CR that would block funding for both the reform law and Planned Parenthood. Such provisions have been included in the GOP FY 2011 CR budget bill (HR 1), which the House passed in February.

Although Democratic leaders on Tuesday indicated that they are willing to consider some of the policy-based non-spending provisions in HR 1 to break the impasse on the next budget measure, they have warned that they will not accept any riders that are designed to cut off funding for the health care overhaul and Planned Parenthood (California Healthline, 3/30).

Latest Developments

Following meetings with House Republican and Senate Democratic leaders on Wednesday, Vice President Biden confirmed that the White House and lawmakers "are on the same page" about $33 billion in proposed spending cuts in the next budget measure, CQ Today reports (Young/Friel, CQ Today, 3/30).

An official familiar with the discussions said the figure appears to split the difference between a Senate Democratic proposal for $30 billion in cuts, which includes $10 billion that Congress approved in the two most recent stopgap CRs, and $36 billion in cuts that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested during a recent meeting with the White House (Berman [1], The Hill, 3/30).

However, Boehner's suggested cuts in spending fall short of the nearly $61 billion that House Republicans proposed in HR 1. Some conservative GOP members have said the full $61 billion in cuts must be included in the final FY 2011 CR, while Senate Democrats have rejected that amount, the Post reports (Washington Post, 3/30).

Certain Riders Remain Dealbreakers in Senate, Schumer Says

On Tuesday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) insisted that including any riders from HR 1 that are designed to defund Planned Parenthood and the Environmental Protection Agency will not be acceptable in the Senate. "We believe that they don't belong in a budget bill," Schumer said during a recent television interview (O'Brien, "Blog Briefing Room," The Hill, 3/30).

Democrats Consider Tax Policy Changes To Alleviate Spending Pressure

Senate Democrats are considering proposing raising certain taxes as part of the budget debate, which could protect social programs like Planned Parenthood and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, The Hill reports. According to The Hill, Democrats are seeking to "take the offensive" with proposals that would:

  • Impose a surtax on millionaires;
  • Set higher tax rates on manufacturers that relocate factories overseas;
  • Cut tax breaks for certain high-income earners who make charitable donations; and
  • Eliminate tax breaks for oil and gas companies (Bolton, The Hill, 3/31).

Cantor Offers Proposal To Force Enactment of HR 1

On Friday, House Republicans are expected to approve legislation that would require HR 1 to become law if lawmakers fail to approve a spending measure before April 8, when the current stopgap CR is scheduled to expire, The Hill reports.

However, The Hill notes that the move will be "purely symbolic" because the Democratic-controlled Senate already has rejected HR 1.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who offered the bill, said that it also would prevent lawmakers from being paid if the government shuts down. Some House GOP leaders said the legislation is designed to "prod the Senate" to act quickly on the final spending measure (Berman [2], The Hill, 3/30).


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