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House to Take Up $6 Billion CR on Tuesday

On Tuesday, the House is expected to debate the latest extension, until April 8th, of temporary authority for the federal government to continue discretionary spending programs. The CR, H.J.Res. 48, will continue the framework of H.R. 1, which would reduce spending by about $60 billion over the remaining months of the fiscal year, by cutting discretionary spending by about $2 billion per week for at total of $6 billion over the next three weeks.  The CR was necessitated when the Senate rejected the House-passed appropriations measure on a mostly party-line vote, as well as the Senate Majority Leader’s alternative, with 10 Democrat defections, which would cut about $10.8 billion through September 30th.  As to the status of appropriations for the remainder of FY 2011, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that it is likely that all Senate Republicans will vote against raising the federal debt ceiling (which Treasury Secretary Geithner says should take place as soon as April 15th), unless Congress passes and the President signs legislation that would significantly reduce federal deficits going forward. 

Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) have taken to the public airwaves to educate the nation on the need for deficit reduction, describing the consequences as dire if a bipartisan agreement cannot be reached.  Also, the Senate bipartisan “gang of six” also continues to discuss a long-term deficit reduction plan which would tweak the Bowles/Simpson Deficit Reduction Commission recommendations. 

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is expected to release his FY 2012 budget and entitlement spending reductions before the debt limit deadline.  If a bipartisan/presidential deal on spending for at least FY 2011 cannot be reached by the deadline, the burden to pass a debt limit increase will fall principally on House Speaker John Boehner to rally enough Republicans and Democrats to pass the measure.  All of the Senators in the Democratic Caucus would also have to follow suit to pass the debt limit increase, if Senate Republicans refuse to go along.  Given Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ testimony last week before the House Appropriations Committee, where she strongly opposed the $1 billion cut to community health centers under H.R. 1, it appears to be an uphill battle for Republicans to convince the Administration of the need to enact further cuts to discretionary programs this fiscal year.  Senator Orrin Hatch and Rep. Dave Camp also rebutted the Secretary’s contention that the House CR would stymie updated payments to Medicare Advantage plans.  The provisions in H.R. 1, which would defund HHS implementation of the PPACA, were said by CBO to result in a ten-year $5.7 billion increase in the federal deficit.  These and other “riders” included in H.R. 1 will only serve to complicate a bipartisan budget agreement going forward.  To date, the CR’s have not included such riders.

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