Bridging the Budget Gap, One Step at a Time

March 15, 2011 | By Liza Casabona | Post a Comment

Budget negotiations are hardly expected to be a walk in the park, but the current spending conversations taking place on Capitol Hill could indicate that this year will be one to remember.

Legislators could vote as early as today on yet another temporary continuing resolution to keep the government running in absence of an approved budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2011.

House Republicans unveiled a stopgap spending measure on Friday that would extend government operations through April 8 and cut approximately $6 billion more from current discretionary spending levels. The current CR keeping things humming expires on Friday.

Because it contained few, if any, controversial cuts and would help avoid the politically damaging threat of a government shutdown, the measure was widely expected to pass both chambers. Most of the proposed cuts targeted earmarked funds and programs that Democrats have also identified for elimination.

President Obama indicated in a speech last week that he was open to another short term CR.  The House is expected to vote today and the Senate will likely pick the measure up later this week.

But to use a metaphor that’s getting a lot of play this budget season, the move simply kicks the can down the road yet again. Democrats and Republicans are facing off over an ideological spending chasm that’s roughly $50 billion deep, and at least on the surface no one seems willing to be the first to start building the necessary bridge. Divisions within each party are making the outcome even more uncertain.

Despite comments from the White House about not wanting to simply enact a running stream of two-week funding measures, to a certain extent that seems to be exactly what’s happening. A government shutdown could wreak havoc on federal funding, but so could the uncertainty of only having a two-week guarantee that money will be there instead of knowing what funds are available for the rest of the year.

If temporary CRs are the only spending measures moving on the Hill, the headlines might not be as dramatic as a government shutdown but they could still have a noticeable impact on how scores of agencies and organizations operate.

How do the organizations that depend on federal money prepare for the potential effects of more temporary stopgap spending measures? Do cuts hurt any less if they come in incremental dribs and drabs over several weeks or months worth of CRs, or is it better to just yank the band aid off in one swoop and get a budget in place for the rest of the fiscal year?

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