Searching for Sixty: Important Week for FY 2011 Appropriations Bills

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Publication date: 
13 December 2010

Sixty  votes will be needed in the Senate to work toward the conclusion of the FY 2011  appropriations cycle.  Entering what is  scheduled to be the final week of this session of Congress, no one knows what  form the final appropriations bill will take, how long it will be for, and what  the level of funding will be.  The  outcome will depend on whether 60 senators vote to allow the Senate to proceed  on a final appropriations bill.

Last  Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved by a vote of 212-206 a bill to  continue FY 2010 funding through September 30, 2011.  This bill provides $45.9 billion less than President  Obama requested for discretionary programs.   While the total funding remains the same from FY 2010 - $1,089,652  million – the House Appropriations Committee made funding adjustments between  different programs and accounts to, as stated by the committee “deal with  current demands and workloads and avoid furloughs.”

There  are many pages of funding changes in this resolution.  Of note, the appropriators increased NASA  science funding from the FY 2010 level of $4,469 million to the requested level  of $5,005.6 million  There is also  language regarding the International Space Station, commercial crew funding,  the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle, and a heavy lift launch vehicle system of  not less than 130 tons.  The language for  the Department of Energy includes a provision that $300 million of funding can  be transferred to the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy from several DOE  accounts, including the Science account.   Also in the DOE language is $624 million for the National Nuclear  Security Administration if the New START Treaty receives Senate ratification.  Finally, House appropriators provided $1,125.1  million for the U.S. Geological Survey, up from the FY 2010 level of $1,111.7  million. 

The  Senate will be taking up this House-passed continuing resolution this week, as current  funding expires on December 18.  There  are several possible outcomes.

Senate  and House leaders have been working on an FY 2011 omnibus spending bill that  would combine all twelve appropriations bills.   The total price tag for this bill would be less than originally  envisioned, but would meet a spending cap originally called for by a Democratic  senator and a Republican senator who want to see spending reduced.  This legislation has not been released.  If backers of this approach can secure sixty  or more votes, overall funding would total approximately $1.108 trillion, about  $18 billion more than this year’s funding that would be continued by the  House-passed continuing resolution.

If  this fails, the Senate could continue the current funding level as called for  in the House-passed continuing resolution. 

If  neither of these measures is agreed to, another short term continuing  resolution would be passed that would likely extend into February.  Some prominent Republicans advocate this  approach as it would allow them the opportunity to reduce non-defense discretionary  spending to FY 2008 levels, a 22 percent reduction that would total about $100  billion. 

Sixty  Senate votes will determine the outcome.

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