Obama, Republicans Playing Game of Government Shutdown Chicken

Republicans are using short-term spending bills to achieve real cuts—even if they are on the small end of the scale.

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Since the previous Congress failed to make provisions to fund the U.S. government for fiscal year 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to take up a short-term spending bill Tuesday that, if passed, will fund the government through April 8.

This latest short-term measure is a stopgap, something to keep the government running while negotiations continue over a long-term continuing resolution that will fund the government for the rest of the year.

What’s going on is a protracted game of chicken, with the Republicans insisting on significant cuts in spending and the Democrats and President Barack Obama resisting. The short-term agreements prevent a government shutdown, but only forestall the inevitable confrontation. [See a slide show of 10 effects of a federal government shutdown.]

Patience is wearing thin. House Speaker John Boehner told CNBC’s Larry Kudlow Monday night that the long-term spending bill must contain “real cuts” and “real limitations” on the administration.

“I want the continuing resolution through September 30th finished as soon as possible,” Boehner told Kudlow. “But that’s going to mean real cuts. It’s going to mean real limitations on what this administration can do for the balance of this fiscal year.”

In the meantime, the Republicans are using the short-term funding bills to achieve real cuts—even if they are on the small end of the scale. The bill before the House Tuesday would, the House Republican Conference said in its analysis of the legislation, “rescind, reduce, or eliminate funding for 25 current government programs which were also reduced by H.R. 1.” [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

“In addition, H.J. Res. 48 would eliminate funding that was made available in fiscal year 2010 that would have gone to earmarked programs and projects. Program eliminations in the bill total $3.5 billion in savings while savings from earmark eliminations total $2.6 billion in savings.”

Among the programs on the chopping block:

  • Preserve America (National Park Service), saving $4.6 million. This grant program promotes “heritage tourism” and was not funded in the president’s budget request.
  • Save America’s Treasures Grant Program (National Park Service), saving $14.8 million. The program was originally slated as a two-year initiative to commemorate the year 2000 Millennium and was not funded in the president’s budget request.
  • Climate Effects Network Science Application (U.S. Geological Survey), saving $10.5 million. This program to “provide data for forecasting the effects of climate change” was not funded in the president’s budget request.
  • Greenhouse Gas Cap and Trade Funding (EPA), saving $5 million. This funding was provided by the last Congress for the EPA to assist Congress in enacting the Cap and Trade legislation. This program was not funded in the president’s budget request.
  • Local Government Climate Change Grants (EPA), saving $10 million. This program was not funded in the president’s budget request. In addition, the administration has indicated that this program lacks focus and effectiveness, and is too broad to allow fair competition for grants.
  • Customs and Border Protection—Construction (Department of Homeland Security), $107 million. This rescission of unneeded construction and planning funding was requested by the agency, and was part of the Senate Democrats’ recent CR proposal.
  • Public Telecommunications Facilities and Construction (Commerce Department), saving $19 million. The mandated conversions of public television stations to digital broadcasting and other mandated conversion efforts are now completed and the funds are no longer necessary. This termination was requested in the president’s budget request.
  • Census Rescission (Commerce Department), saving $1.74 billion. These funds were appropriated in fiscal year 2010 to conduct the 2010 Decennial Census. The census is complete and these balances are no longer needed.
  • Flu Funding (Health and Human Services Department), saving $276 million. The bill reduces this “no-year” pandemic influenza funding, while continuing approximately $65 million in annual flu funding. There is sufficient carry-over funding available to the agency to cover any necessary long-term costs. This “no-year” funding was eliminated in the president’s request, and in the Senate Democrats’ most recent CR proposal.
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting, saving $50 million. The bill terminates the “Fiscal Stabilization Fund,” which provides funding increases to public broadcasting stations to offset reduced public donations. The bill also terminates the “Radio Interconnection” project that was completed in 2010. These programs were also terminated in the president’s budget request as well as the Senate Democrats’ most recent CR proposal.
  • Chief Administrative Officer Salaries and Expenses (House of Representatives), saving $1.5 million. This CR reduces 38 unneeded and unfilled House operations positions, and reduces contractor funding within the House of Representatives.  
  • These program eliminations are, while significant, still small ball. It’s likely that this continuing resolution, should it pass the Senate and be signed into law, will be the last until the terms of a long-term CR can be negotiated. This means that the real issues, like the continued funding of Obamacare and the efforts to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from bringing an energy tax in through the back door, will soon come to a head.

    • Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.
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