GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN AVERTED AS LAWMAKERS COMPROMISE ON 2011 BUDGET

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Compromise budget includes large cuts to health and nutrition programs for low-income Americans, public broadcasting, Planned Parenthood services, high-speed rail, and air pollution controls

 

By Jeremy Los

April 13, 2011- A government shut down was averted in the 11th hour as House Republicans were able to reach agreement Friday with President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats about a budget for the next six months. 

 

The compromise will look to cut federal spending by some $38 billion dollars this year. The budget itself has yet to be completely passed, however, as Friday’s last minute deal simply provided a stopgap, allowing for a continued flow of federal funding through this Thursday. Update April 15, 2011 - Congress approved the stopgap budget yesterday for funding through year's end.

 

The bill itself isn’t exactly what House Republicans wanted, nor is it considered a full-fledge victory for Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama.

 

“Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful,” President Obama said. “Programs people rely on will be cut back; needed infrastructure projects will be delayed. And I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances.”

 

Laced with spending cuts, the bill still does not reach the deep cuts originally proposed by House Republicans. House Republicans passed a budget blueprint back in January that called for $61 billion in spending cuts to address a $14 trillion federal debt.

 

"While I respect that some of my Republican colleagues will ultimately support this spending deal, I believe voters are asking us to set our sights higher," said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, head of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative lawmakers. According to CNN, Jordan has stated that the $38 billion in cuts is not sufficient, noting the stark contrast between the compromised budget and budget plan Republicans set in January.

 

The battle over funding for Planned Parenthood, and other family-planning organizations, provided a major sticking point in the budget negotiations. Republicans looked to get all the funding pulled from Planned Parenthood, including funds for cancer screens such as PAP smears and breast cancer testing.

 

Republicans believe that government funds should not be allocated to an organization that provides abortions. On the floor of the United States Senate, Minority Whip Senator Jon Kyl, Rep. Arizona, mistakenly stated that abortion was “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.” In actuality, abortion only account for about 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood does. Sen. Kyl’s office responded to the reports that the Senator was drastically wrong by saying “his remark was not intended to be a factual statement.”

 

According to the New York Times, the budget compromise will not strip Planned Parenthood of all funding, as the GOP proposed, but will cut it by some $17 million. According to Speaker of the House John Boehner (Rep.) the agreement will include a restriction on abortion financing in Washington D.C.

 

Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and members of the D.C. council took to Capital Hill Monday to protest the Washington provision to ban federal and local funding for abortion. Mayor Gray was arrested along with members of the D.C. council for their part in the demonstrations Monday.

 

The Environmental Protection Agency will take one of the biggest slashes, according to the House Appropriations documents, as it will see its budget slashed by 16% to $1.6 billion. According to Bloomberg News, the budget deal undermines efforts to reduce pollution from mountaintop coal mining and mercury emissions from power plants.

 

“A $1.6 billion cut coming just at the time the EPA is finally waking up and starting to adopt basic safeguards is going to have a significant impact,” said Gabe Wisniewski, coal campaign director for the environmental group Greenpeace in an interview. “It’s a larger cut than a lot of other agencies and programs are facing, which unfortunately signals a willingness to compromise public health.”

 

The WIC program will face deep spending cuts, the program which subsidizes the food and nutrition needs of children in low-income families will be slashed by $500 million according to CNN. According to Reuters, WIC provides additional food to low-income pregnant women, new mothers and their children. The program was estimated to serve 9.3 million people this year at a cost of $7.2 billion.

 

The deal as it stands has spared the student population, somewhat. Funding for President Obama’s “Race to the Top,” initiative, which provides grants to better performing schools, will also be spared according to the Associated Press. The program will receive $700 million rather than the $1.3 billion asked for by President Obama, according to the Washington Post.

 

According to the Washington Post, the bill would keep funding at $14.5 billion for Title I grants to school districts with needy students. House Republicans had proposed nearly $700 million in cuts, affecting an estimated 2,400 schools. The bill delivers $536 million for School Improvement Grants, which target Title I schools, $327 million more than House Republicans had proposed.

 

The Pell grant program will face $500 million in cuts, but the maximum Pell grant will maintain at $5,550; the deal will also end a summer school Pell grant system. The bill will save $350 billion over the next 10 years with the elimination of the year round Pell, which according to the Washington Post allowed students to receive two separate grants if they attend school year-round.

 

According to the Chronicle of Higher Learning, by maintaining Pell at a $5,550 maximum, the bill ensures that colleges won't have to backtrack on their financial-aid offers to families for the coming academic year.

 

"The budget deal finalizes financial-aid packages, allowing millions of families to breathe a sigh of relief," said Rich Williams, a lobbyist for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

 

According to the Washington Post, $942 million will be cut from the Community Development fund, which includes grants designed to invest in low-income neighborhoods and to help rehabilitate housing. The HOPE VI program, which revamps distressed public housing and replaces it with mixed income housing, will also lose $100 million, according the Washington Post.

 

Cuts will hit Homeland Security for the first time, as they will face a 2% cut in spending. Much of that according to the Associated Press will come from the $786 million cut to first responder grants to state and local governments. The cut, according to Republicans, will not have an impact on staffing at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, the TSA, or Secret Service units.

 

The high-speed rail program that President Obama has pushed for since his election into office will face a major setback, as it will see its funding cut by $3 billion. Republicans had initially asked $5.125 billion in cuts, according to CNN. The Washington Post stated that this is a huge setback for the Obama administration, which called for $53 billion to be spent on the program over the next six years.

 

Public broadcasting will also see its budget shrink with the budget compromise, though not as much as Republicans would have liked. According to CNN, Republicans wanted the public broadcasting budget to be slashed by $400 million, the compromise trimmed that number down to $80 million.

 

This deal is a compromise by every sense of the word; neither side got what it wanted completely. The compromised budget is to be voted on Thursday, if it is passed the government will be funded through September 30, the end of the fiscal year.