Extreme federal budgeting…

With all the focus we have given to the state budget, we have neglected the important and looming fight around the federal budget.

Several parts are in motion, leading to a potential standoff and possible government shutdown in early March.

Last week, President Obama unveiled his budget for 2011-12, which includes an overall freeze on discretionary spending–including cuts in important programs. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, while disagreeing with some specific cuts, said that it was “an important step toward addressing the nation’s long-term fiscal challenge, cutting the deficit enough to stabilize the debt as a share of the economy.” The President is also set to negotiate with Congressional leaders on further changes in the major parts of the budget–including Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

The budget seeks to protect certain investments, and maintains the priority on health care and reform that the President has championed. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has detailed breakdowns of the President’s proposals with regard to these critical areas.

But while this just starts the conversation about the 2011-12 budget, Congress is currently debating the budget of the current year, 2010-11. Right now, federal agencies only are funded into March–Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution by then to avert a government shutdown.

But the GOP-controlled House of Representatives have said they won’t pass such a resolution without steep, immediate cuts for the current year. Mid-week, the House Republicans passed a mid-year budget bill full of both steep overall reductions, and narrowly targeted ideological statements to defund certain specific elements of laws they don’t like. This included defunding the staffing and implementation of various elements of the federal health law (as well as various environment and financial regulations), and attacking organizations like Planned Parenthood. This also included an eye-popping $1.3 billion cut to community health centers–a fund for community clinics championed by President George W. Bush.

GOP House leadership has made this extreme document their demand, and they have said they will not pass a continuing resolution at current spending levels, leading to an impasse with the Senate and the President.

The stakes are high as March fast approaches. As much as the state budget crisis is a big deal, it’s worth watching the federal fight as well, especially as it gets more intense over the next few weeks.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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