by Anne Morris, MPH
We’re just a few days away from the expiration of the current short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) that’s funding government programs. Here’s what we do know: H.J.Res. 48 expires this Friday. Leaders from the House and Senate (and their staff) and White House officials have been working around the clock to try and reach consensus on a final FY2011 spending bill. To date, Congress has cut $10 billion in spending relative to FY2010-enacted levels, with $6 billion of this total coming from the most recent CR. Importantly, both the Health Centers Program and National Health Service Corps are not impacted by the funding cuts that have already become law. News reports as recent as this morning suggest that House Republicans, Senate Democrats, and the White House have been working from a topline number of overall funding cuts that is $33 billion below the FY2010-enacted level and $73 billion below the President’s FY2011 Budget Request. These figures represent total cuts, so we’d be looking at $23 billion in new spending cuts relative to the FY2010-enacted level to reach the $33 billion threshold. Since last week, leaders from both sides of the aisle have stepped up the rhetoric. It’s clear both parties are positioning themselves should Congress and the White House fail to reach an agreement, resulting in a government shutdown. Finally, it’s considered pretty much a given that any spending bill that has House Speaker Boehner’s approval will be supported by Senate Minority Leader McConnell.
However, several rather important issues are unresolved. First off, what exactly has been agreed to? Publicly, Speaker Boehner maintains there’s no deal until everything is resolved. He’s also stated that House Republicans’ position is evident: H.R. 1 and $100 billion in cuts relative to the President’s FY2011 Budget. However, Speaker Boehner has also made clear statements about the importance of avoiding a government shutdown and is actively engaged in ongoing discussions with Senate Majority Leader Reid and the White House. A second lingering question is which – if any – policy directives that were part of H.R. 1 (e.g., amendments seeking to block or slow use of appropriated funds to implement the Affordable Care Act) will be included in any final package. Our understanding is that decisions on the final topline number and riders are interconnected – so it is hard to predict the total number of cuts without knowing which riders are definitely included or excluded. Third, Congress and the White House will need to agree on how to reach at least $23 billion in new cuts and resolve whether these cuts will be solely on the discretionary side or if there will be a mixture of both mandatory and discretionary cuts, as some reports have suggested.
As Congressional leaders and White House officials continue actively negotiating the details of a FY2011 appropriations bill, we need to keep up the heat on the grassroots side! Our health center advocates have been doing an incredible job at getting the message across that any final 2011 spending bill should keep health centers discretionary funding whole at the $2.19 billion level. Please continue to weigh in with your Senators and Representative about the important work of health centers in your local communities and states and the need to maintain this level of funding. The end of this process is finally in sight, and your advocacy is the key to preserving health center funding. Stay tuned for all the latest!