|On Congress's Plate: Federal Budget, Debt Ceiling, ESEA and More|
week, the U.S. House and Senate returned to session after an unusually long summer
recess. Greeting members upon their return are several pressing fiscal issues.
the current fiscal year is set to expire on September 30, and despite action taken
in both the House and Senate appropriations committees, neither chamber has
made significant progress toward producing a formal budget for fiscal year
2014. As a result, next week
the House is expected to vote on a continuing resolution (CR) that would keep
the federal government operating until December 15. While Congress's inability
to pass a budget is frustrating, it does, at least in the short-term, protect
the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from the devastating 50% reduction in
funding proposed in the House of Representatives.
isn't clear at this time, though, is what will be included in the bill. Democrats
in Congress and the president are calling for what is known as a clean CR,
which would essentially fund government agencies, including the NEA, at current
Republicans in Congress are calling for the bill to include a provision
that would prevent the Obama administration from funding implementation of
the 2010 health reform law. While the inclusion of such a provision might pass
in the House, it would be roundly opposed in the Senate (which is controlled by
Democrats) and by the president, thereby putting the government at risk of
shutting down on October 1.
and when this issue is resolved, another issue is complicating the budget
picture: the looming standoff over whether Congress should approve an increase
in the federal government's debt authority. You may recall that in 2011,
Congress and President Obama engaged in an intense debate over whether Congress
would agree to raise the Treasury Department's statutory debt ceiling. At the 11th
hour, Congress agreed to approve an increase, but only after the president
agreed to significant reductions in mandatory and discretionary spending
through a measure known as sequestration.
to the Obama administration, the Treasury Department will once again reach
its borrowing authority sometime in mid-October. As a result, the federal
government will default on its loan obligations if Congress does not agree to
an increase. While five weeks remain before the threat of default becomes real,
Republican leadership in the House of Representatives is calling for another
round of spending reductions—reductions that the president has said he will not
entertain. The timing and significance of this standoff could have serious
implications for negotiations over the budget for FY2014. The president,
Democratic leadership in the Senate, and several prominent House Republicans
have spoken about the importance of preserving steady funding for the NEA, but
NASAA and other arts advocates in Washington are preparing for a difficult
budget season this fall.
other news, several significant pieces of legislation appear to have
stalled. You may recall that legislation reauthorizing the Elementary and
Secondary Education Act (ESEA) passed out of the Education Committees in both the
U.S. House and Senate this year. ESEA is the primary law through which the federal
government funds and directs public education programs, including several arts
education programs. The law has not been reauthorized since 2002, and the
passage by both committees gave rise to optimism that a deal between the House
and Senate could be reached. Unfortunately, since passing the legislation out
of the House Education and Workforce Committee earlier this year, neither the
House nor the Senate has scheduled a vote on the bill.
legislation reforming the nation's immigration laws won overwhelming support in
the Senate earlier this year. Arts advocates were particularly pleased that a
provision long supported by NASAA was included in the legislation; the
provision would fix a shortcoming in current
law that results in long and unpredictable wait times for artists seeking O and
P visas to perform in the United States. Unfortunately, to date, the House of
Representatives has not produced a bill of its own, and with an election year
just a few months a way, the prospects for such an action taking place in the House
become less certain.
complicating matters, of course, is whether the president
will ask members of Congress to vote to
authorize military action in Syria. Should
such a request be made, the timetable for action on all of the issues above
will become even more muddled.
these issues continue to unfold, NASAA will monitor events closely and keep you
up to date on any developments. If you have any questions in the meantime,
please do not hesitate to e-mail me
or contact me by phone at 202-540-9162.