A federal government shutdown was temporarily averted when Congress passed, and President Obama approved, a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government operating until Friday, March 18. The White House and Senate Democrats have been unwilling to accept the House FY11 spending plan that would reduce the federal budget by $61 billion.
On March 4, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) proposed an FY11 budget that would eliminate approximately $10.5 billion in spending. However, his plan was met with resistance from liberals, who do not want to see cuts in spending, and conservatives, who do not believe the cuts go far enough. His plan failed in a floor vote on March 9, 42-58. The Senate plan would have maintained the maximum Pell Grant award at $5,550 while the House bill would reduce the maximum award to $4,705 and research accounts would generally remain stagnant at FY10 levels.
Up until last week, budget talks had been focused on a short-term plan targeting the domestic discretionary budget. However, in a speech on March 9 at the Center for American Progress, US Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called on lawmakers to consider broadening the scope of federal programs on the table to include entitlement programs, revenue sources, and proposals that were supported by members of President Obama's Fiscal Commission. This merges the ongoing debate over short-term domestic spending with the efforts of the "Gang of Six", a bipartisan group of Senators who have been meeting weekly to support deficit reduction.
Negotiations between the White House and the Senate and House leadership are likely to continue for some time. With Democrats and Republicans $50 billion apart, the threat of a government shutdown remains. However, the most likely scenario is passage of another short-term CR, if not a series of them, despite Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) opposition to the temporary spending bills.
In the meantime, administration officials have been busy testifying in support of President Obama's FY12 budget request at hearings on both Sides of Capitol Hill. Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the House Education and the Workforce Committee on Wednesday, March 9 and the House Appropriations Committee on March 10 in support of the Department's request.
US Senate Passes Patent Reform Legislation
The Senate, on March 8, passed The America Invents Act of 2011 (S. 23), a bill that could help improve the system that moves university research into the commercial market. The legislation would update and reform the U.S. patent system, and passed in a 95-5 vote. Among other reforms, the legislation would shift the current way of doing business at the U.S. Patent and Trade Office from a first-to-invent to a first-inventor-to-file system. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) is expected to introduce companion legislation in the near future.