Govt Shutdown Averted As Can Gets Kicked 6 Months Down The Road

The budgeting process for our Federal Government is a convoluted process that doesn’t come close to matching any budgeting process in the private sector.  Since Congress hasn’t actually agreed upon spending and taxing policies, which they can use to create a budget, some means to fund government operations and services must be used.  That’s where a continuing resolution comes in.

A continuing resolution is a type of appropriations legislation used by Congress (providing they can agree on the continuing resolution) to fund government agencies if a budget (appropriations) bill hasn’t passed both Houses and been signed into law by the end of a Congressional fiscal year (October 1st – September 30 each year).

Two budget bills were voted on this week in Congress … both along partisan lines.  The Republican bill in the House was passed with only Republican votes and is pretty much DOA in the Senate.  The Democratic bill in the Senate passed with votes from Democrats and Independents, but no Republicans. Similarly, the Senate bill is pretty much DOA in the House.  Each bill takes different approaches in building a budget to fund governmental functions and services.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s Budget (HCONRES25)  seeks $4.6 trillion in savings over the next 10 years without raising new taxes. It aims to reach a small surplus by 2023 through deep cuts to health care and social programs that aid the poor. It passed the House on a purely partisan vote with NO Democratic support and 10 Republican defections:

3/15/2013 Introduced in House
3/15/2013 The House Committee on The Budget reported an original measure, H. Rept. 113-17, by Mr. Ryan (WI).
3/21/2013 Passed/agreed to in House: On agreeing to the resolution Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: 221 – 207 (Roll no. 88). Rep. Amodei is listed as “not voting”: Heck, Horsford and Titus all voted in against passage.
3/22/2013 Received in the Senate. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 33.
REPUBLICAN 221 10 0 1
DEMOCRATIC 0 197 0 3
TOTALS 221 207 4

Senator Patty Murray’s budget (SCONRES8) in the Senate aims to reduce deficits by $1.85 trillion over 10 years through an equal mix of tax increases and spending cuts.  Again, this budget was also passed along partisan lines with four Democratic defections: Baucus (MT), Begich (AK), Hagan (NC) and Pryor (AR). Upon passage in the Senate, Sen. Murray (Senate Budget Cmtee Chair) stated, “While it is clear that the policies, values, and priorities of the Senate budget are very different than those articulated in the House budget, I know the American people are expecting us to work together to end the gridlock and find common ground, and I plan to continue doing exactly that.”

3/15/2013 Introduced in Senate
3/15/2013 Committee on the Budget. Original measure reported to Senate by Senator Murray under authority of the order of the Senate of 03/14/2013. Without written report.
3/23/2013 Passed/agreed to in Senate: Resolution agreed to in Senate with amendments by Yea-Nay Vote. 50 – 49. Record Vote Number: 92.  NOTE:  Reid voted Yea / Heller voted against passage
  YEA 50 48 0 2
  NAY 49 4 45 0
NOT VOTING 1 1 0 0

Given that Rep. Ryan’s Path to Poverty Version 3.0 budget bill went down in flames as soon as it hit the Senate door, and the Senate’s bill didn’t fair any better in the House, another continuing resolution  to authorize modified levels of spending for the next six months was needed — or as they like to refer to it in Washington — kicking the can down the road for yet another six months.  The Continuing Resolution bill is HR933, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013.

HR933 was originally introduced as Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013.  Since the Senate can’t “originate” an appropriations bill, and since HR933 was an appropriations bill already passed by the House (the only chamber authorized to “originate” appropriations), the Senate commandeered that bill, replaced it’s contents with a continuing resolution, and sent it back to the House for concurrence.  If the Senate were to have created a bill on it’s own, approved it and sent it to the House, it would have been blue-slipped and automatically rejected upon Constitutional grounds.

3/4/2013 Introduced in House
3/6/2013 Passed/agreed to in House: On passage Passed by the Yeas and Nays: 267 – 151 (Roll no. 62).
3/20/2013 Passed/agreed to in Senate: Passed Senate with an amendment replacing its contents and an amendment to re-Title the bill by Yea-Nay Vote. 73 – 26. Record Vote Number: 44.  NOTE:  Reid voted Yea / Heller voted against passage (for shutdown)
3/21/2013 Resolving differences — House actions: On motion that the House agree to the Senate amendments Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: 318 – 109 (Roll no. 89).  NOTE:  Rep. Amodei is listed as “not voting”: Heck, Horsford and Titus all voted in favor of passage.
  YEA 73 51 20 2
  NAY 26 1 25 0
NOT VOTING 1 1 0 0
  YEA 318 203 115 0
  NAY 109 27 82 0
NOT VOTING 4 1 3 0

It now goes to the President for signature and thus, another kick of the budgetary can.

Budgets are technically, a statement of priorities, as are continuing resolutions.  And, various tidbits and provisos of each party’s policy stances toward governance manage to slip in budgetary bills. Overall, 112 amendments were offered to the HR933. Transparency relative to all 112 amendments is sorely lacking, as most are listed on THOMAS as “Purpose will be available when the amendment is proposed for consideration. See Congressional Record for text.”  It’s clear we need to revisit the issue of “transparency” with our legislators.

Here are a few of the amendments I found that failed:

  • SA 30 introduced by Sen. Cruz (R-TX): To prohibit the use of funds to carry out the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
  • SA 66 introduced by Sen. Coburn (R-OK): To temporarily freeze the hiring of nonessential Federal employees.
  • SA 69 introduced by Sen. Coburn (R-OK): To prohibit Urban Area Security Initiative grant recipients from funding projects that do not improve homeland security.
  • SA 93 introduced by Sen. Coburn R-OK): To transfer appropriations from the National Heritage Partnership Program to fund the resumption of public tours of the White House and visitor services and maintenance at national parks and monuments.
  • SA 115 introduced by Sen. Toomey (R-PA): To increase by $25,000,000 the amount appropriated for Operation and Maintenance for the Department of Defense for programs, projects, and activities in the continental United States, and to provide an offset.

Here are a few of the amendments I found that passed:

  • SA 72 introduced by Sen. Inhofe (R-OK): To require the continuation of tuition assistance programs for members of the Armed Forces for the remainder of fiscal year 2013.
  • SA 29 introduced by Sen. Inhofe (R-OK): To prohibit the expenditure of Federal funds to enforce the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure rule of the Environmental Protection Agency against farmers.
  • SA 65 introduced by Sen. Coburn (R-OK): To prohibit the use of funds to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation, except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.

Here a a few other items that were slipped in to this bill that you might find a bit interesting.

Veteran’s Benefits

Given the GOP’s advertisement of their “autopsy” and their need to be a kinder, gentler, more inclusive party of something other than Greedy Old Patriarchs, plus, given their “support for the troops” and their “Jobs, Job, Jobs” mantra … section 8014 of the bill is a bit counter-intuitive.  Although—it does parallel their tiered benefits approach to Medicare (those older than 55 get the current program, those younger, well they’d get a declining value voucher). Under this proviso, it appears that if you re-enlisted before 10/1/1987 and have this in your enlistment contract, you get it … everyone else … so sad, too bad. The VA can buy your books and pay your tuition, but the government won’t pay you any wages or benefits … but hey … you’re still on the hook for your enlistment.  Good luck supporting yourself and oh, by the way, hope you don’t get sick while you’re at school learning something that you’ll later apply back on the job during the rest of your enlistment.

Sec. 8014. None of the funds appropriated by this Act shall be available for the basic pay and allowances of any member of the Army participating as a full-time student and receiving benefits paid by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from the Department of Defense Education Benefits Fund when time spent as a full-time student is credited toward completion of a service commitment: Provided, That this section shall not apply to those members who have reenlisted with this option prior to October 1, 1987: Provided further, That this section applies only to active components of the Army.

The Long Defunct ACORN organization

Sec. 510. None of the funds made available in this Act may be distributed to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) or its subsidiaries or successors.

Good grief!  ACORN was a collection of community-based organizations that advocated for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues. The Gang Of Predators (GOP) killed that organization using totally and bogusly false allegations!  It filed for Chapter 7 liquidation on November 2, 2010, effectively closing the organization. The GOP danced with glee … so if they’re trying to become a kinder, gentler, caring GOP, what’s with the paranoia … and the continued assault on any organization that helps the poor?

Restrictions Placed on the ATF — Gives away a KEY requirement for Control of Gun Violence to the NRA

One of the reasons we’ve not been able to get a handle on how to control gun violence is that we have not data from which we can effectively draw conclusions.  That’s because, gun vendors are not required to keep any records whatsoever of gun sales for use in analyzing patterns.  Similarly, police units are prohibited from keeping permanent records associated with background checks and trace data.  In passing the continuing resolution … proviso language included in the bill perpetuate the lack of analysis data.

(b) For fiscal year 2013 and thereafter, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shall include in all such data releases, language similar to the following that would make clear that trace data cannot be used to draw broad conclusions about firearms-related crime:

(1) Firearm traces are designed to assist law enforcement authorities in conducting investigations by tracking the sale and possession of specific firearms. Law enforcement agencies may request firearms traces for any reason, and those reasons are not necessarily reported to the Federal Government. Not all firearms used in crime are traced and not all firearms traced are used in crime.

(2) Firearms selected for tracing are not chosen for purposes of determining which types, makes, or models of firearms are used for illicit purposes. The firearms selected do not constitute a random sample and should not be considered representative of the larger universe of all firearms used by criminals, or any subset of that universe. Firearms are normally traced to the first retail seller, and sources reported for firearms traced do not necessarily represent the sources or methods by which firearms in general are acquired for use in crime.

Too Big to Jail

Ever wonder  why the Attorney General never seeks an indictment and doesn’t prosecute government contractors for the waste, fraud and abuse they regularly commit?  Could it be that if they took some of their egregiously fraudful government contractors to court and actually managed to convict them — well, they wouldn’t be able to let them continue to reap their fraudulent schemes and line all those congressional campaign coffers?

SEC. 540. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to enter into a contract, memorandum of understanding, or cooperative agreement with, make a grant to, or provide a loan or loan guarantee to, any corporation that was convicted of a felony criminal violation under any Federal law within the preceding 24 months, where the awarding agency is aware of the conviction, unless an agency has considered suspension or debarment of the corporation and has made a determination that this further action is not necessary to protect the interests of the Government.

Sec. 8126. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to enter into a contract with any person or other entity listed in the Excluded Parties List System (EPLS)/System for Award Management (SAM) as having been convicted of fraud against the Federal Government.

Those are just a few “policy” or “values”  items I noted as a read through bill, as passed.  You may find others if you take the time to read through the bill.  But, as I said earlier, budgets are a statement of “policy” and “values.”  Those activities and services deemed important by the powers that be (regardless of what ordinary Americans value) are funded, plain and simple.  Watch, read, learn over this next term, and in the 2014 primaries, cast your vote based on the VALUES you espouse for a candidate you believe will uphold them.