A Ray of Hope in the Budget Saga?

A Ray of Hope in the Budget Saga?

The news over the past several days on what progress is being made in resolving the FY2011 budget impasse has been pretty dismal. Politico, National Journal and The Hill all have been publishing stories that say, in a nutshell, that the House and Senate remain far apart on what to do about the budget and a government shutdown on April 8 seemed highly likely. Tonight, however, National Journal (subscription required) reports that Vice President Joe Biden is saying that the two sides have agreed on the dollar level of cuts, if not where they will come from or what to do about policy riders.

The government is operating on a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on April 8. Congress must pass some sort of appropriation to keep the government operating after that. Attention is currently focused on passing a “full-year” CR to fund the remaining six months of FY2011, which ends on September 30.

In essence, the unfolding story is that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate negotiators reached a tentative agreement on budget cuts, but conservative House “Tea Party” Republicans soundly rejected it and were not opposed to a government shutdown, at least for a few days, and would not compromise on their drive to make deep cuts. News reports quoting various Democratic Senate sources saying that agreement was close at hand would be quickly countered by House Republicans saying the opposite. In short, it has been quite chaotic.

Thus, a statement by the Democratic Vice President that the two sides have agreed on $73 billion in cuts from the FY2011 budget request may also fail to stand the test of time, but on a cold and rainy Washington evening, it is encouraging to read nonetheless. Still, the caveats are critically important. No agreement on where the cuts will be made, and no agreement on policy language that some House members want to include, such as defunding National Public Radio or Planned Parenthood. Those two issues alone could be deal breakers.

The House passed its version of a full year CR on February 19, cutting $61 billion from FY2010 spending (including a $601 million cut to NASA). The Senate rejected it, along with a Democratic alternative, leading to the current impasse.

One thing both sides appear to agree on is that there is no deal until there is a whole deal, so keep the champagne corked. At this point, however, any step forward, no matter how small or tentative, must be viewed as good news.

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