With the continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown passed, lawmakers set their sights further out.
Working at lightning speed by legislative standards, Congress locked in a continuing resolution to fund government activities for the second half of fiscal 2013, including appropriations for several government departments including Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, Commerce and Agriculture. The Senate passed the measure in the late afternoon of March 20, and the House followed suit the next day.
Before the ink was dry on the CR, the Senate opened debate on a budget for fiscal year 2014 that raises almost $1 trillion in new revenue through 2023, and the House passed the latest version of a much more austere budget from Budget Committee chairman and former vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that lowers taxes and achieves deficit reduction through cuts in government programs. As of this writing, the Senate is in the midst of a marathon session leading to a possible budget vote before the chamber breaks for Easter recess.
As has been widely reported, the Senate and House budgets are dramatically different in their approach to taxes and federal spending. Less discussed is the fact that both seek substantial savings from streamlining government operations. Both Ryan and Senate budget committee chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) give approving nods to the recommendations of U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro with regard to government spending reform. Both documents also cite the General Accountability Office annual report on improper payments and wasteful and duplicative government spending as a guide to achieving savings in government operations. The House legislation estimates that about $20 billion of the government’s $80 billion annual Information Technology budget could be saved by eliminating waste and overlapping spending.
The House is more ambitious in its attempts to reduce the federal workforce, and blunter in its language about the perks of government employment. The Ryan budget promises a 10 percent reduction through “gradual, sensible attrition” in the federal workforce – a plan that reflects, “growing frustration of workers across the country at the privileged rules enjoyed by government employees.” The Senate takes a more consoling tone toward federal workers, but despite the gentle language, it seeks savings from aligning compensation between federal personnel and contractors.
These could be prime areas for discussion if the Senate passes its version of the budget and the legislative chambers attempt to hammer out their differences in a conference committee – although any compromise plan is a longshot at best. As Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Politico, “It’s no secret that the House and Senate budget will never reconcile.”
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