Senate Votes To Delay Sequester for Two Months, House Action Pending

Senate Votes To Delay Sequester for Two Months, House Action Pending

The country fell off the fiscal cliff last night as 2012 turned into 2013.  Two hours later the Senate voted to delay the automatic federal spending cuts known as the sequester for two months and to keep tax rates from rising for most Americans.   The bill now must be taken up by the House, which is scheduled to meet at noon.

The tax issues are vitally important for American taxpayers, but from a space policy perspective the sequester is the key issue.  Unless the House agrees with the Senate, beginning tomorrow defense spending will be cut 9.4 percent and spending for NASA, NOAA and other non-defense discretionary accounts will be cut 8.2 percent. 

If the House passes the Senate bill, the sequester will be delayed until February.  At that time yet another political drama is expected to envelop Washington as politicians debate raising the debt limit.  Treasury Secretary Geithner said last week that the United States would hit the current debt limit of $16.4 trillion on December 31.  He said he can buy about two months of time by using emergency measures to keep the government solvent.   By delaying the sequester for the same amount of time, the politicians presumably will try — again — to reach a grand bargain to fix the nation’s economic woes through spending cuts and revenue adjustments.

It is not certain whether the House will pass the Senate measure, but the strength of the vote in the Senate is considered promising.  The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 89-8, with five Republicans and three Democrats voting no.   (Three Senators, two Republicans and one Democrat, missed the 2:00 am vote).  Many Senators said they did not like the bill, but it was better than nothing.  The hope is that at least 218 of their House counterparts agree.

The bill is not on the list for consideration by the House today.  That may simply be a timing issue considering that the Senate passed it only seven hours ago, but some pundits are speculating that House Speaker Boehner may wait until Thursday, when the new 113th Congress convenes, to bring it to a vote.

Until the House acts and the President signs whatever bill emerges, the nation will stay at the bottom of the cliff.

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