Monday, April 06, 2009

Legislative Update

On April 2, the House and Senate, on strong party line votes, adopted FY 2010 budget resolutions. Although the bills differ modestly in spending authority, they both offer President Obama an endorsement of much of his spending and policy plan for the year. In the compromise measure that will be worked out over the next two weeks the increase in domestic spending will fall at around 8 percent. The focus of this increased spending will be education, health care and energy. This is good news for education advocates who are already overwhelmed by the flow of unanticipated stimulus dollars. The challenge might actually become how to spend all this new funding in an effective and timely manner -- a challenge few ever thought they would face.

One complicated, yet unresolved aspect of the budget debate is reconciliation. Although the Senate specifically prohibited this process, which is used to avoid filibusters, for energy reform, it remains a possibility in the student loan and health care debates. Republicans are crying foul as the limitation on the requirement of a 60-vote majority greatly diminishes minority party influence. Given the importance of the health care proposals in particular, some Republicans are already saying that any attempts at bipartisanship will be undone. Most Democrats respond by reminding their colleagues how often this procedure has been used in the past.

Once a conference committee reaches agreement on the budget resolution, appropriators will meet to divide up the cash, in the neighborhood of $3.6 trillion overall when both mandatory and discretionary spending are taken into account, among all the subcommittees. Hearings are already underway in spite of the absence of any spending details from the Obama administration. Plans for spending at all federal agencies are expected on Capitol Hill by mid-May. Overall, Congress is off to a quick start on this year's budget. The hope is it will meet the Sept. 30 deadline for the first time in many years.

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