Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Excerpt: Continuing Resolution, a Saga

Congress’ budget paralysis has costs
Lawmakers left town without funding many federal agencies, projects

By Jonathan Weisman and Lori Montgomery
The Washington Post
Updated: 10:15 p.m. PT Dec 16, 2006

The Republican-controlled Congress's decision to adjourn a week ago before completing many of the spending bills that finance the federal government will reverberate in ways large and small, such as understaffed U.S. attorney's offices, delayed renovations at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and a scuttled global nuclear energy exchange.

Republican leaders left behind just enough spending authority to keep the government operating through mid-February, less than halfway through the 2007 fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Democrats have signaled that when they take control of Congress in January they will extend that funding authority for the remainder of the year based largely on the previous year's spending levels, which will result in many cuts in programs.

Earmarks on the chopping block
The Democrats also will do something that is certain to anger many lawmakers but cheer critics of excessive government spending: They will wipe out thousands of lawmakers' pet projects, or earmarks, that have been a source of great controversy on Capitol Hill. In the past, lawmakers have peppered individual spending bills with earmarks benefiting special interests. But the funding resolution the Democrats intend to pass in lieu of spending bills will be devoid of earmarks.

The collapse of the budget process was a long time coming, with roots stretching back to the Republican revolution of 1994. But this year, the system finally buckled under the weight of the president's austere spending recommendations, a difficult election year and the Republican leadership's efforts to placate both its most ardent conservatives and its endangered moderates.

Inaction may cause more D.C. gridlock
Congress was able to pass only two of its 11 annual spending bills, those that fund defense and homeland security. Republicans punted spending measures for virtually every one of the government's domestic programs to the Democrats who assume control Jan. 4. Then last week, Democrats announced they would punt, too. A joint House-Senate resolution -- rather than carefully tailored spending bills -- will keep the government open through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, largely at last year's levels.

Layoffs on the horizon
The Department of Energy is looking at a 20 percent cut in its administrative budget and could be forced to lay off many of the 960 people who help manage the department -- secretarial aides, lawyers and human resources staffers, said Craig Stevens, a department spokesman.

New presidential initiatives for 2007, such as the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, FutureGen, a clean coal initiative, and a health-care information technology program, are not likely to be funded, agency officials say.

What is certain is that thousands of earmarks will get nothing, at least until October, when fiscal 2008 begins.

Lawmakers fight to keep pet projects
Budget hawks who have been crusading against such home-district projects hailed the Democrats' decision as an unexpected stroke of political bravery. Bush praised the move yesterday in his weekly radio address.

But the lawmakers who worked to get those projects into the now-dashed spending bills were left quietly fuming. Obey said Friday that he has fielded "a steady stream of calls from people in high dudgeon."

It has been nearly 20 years since congressional failures left the government to be financed under spending guidelines and formulas rather than line-by-line policymaking. But to federal budget experts, this year's breakdown was hardly surprising. Not since 1994, the last year of Democratic control, has Congress actually passed all of its spending bills. Republican leaders almost ensured logjams by populating the House Budget Committee with conservative spending hawks whose views on the size of government were fundamentally different from many of the appropriators who would have to flesh out the committee's budget blueprints. Ultimately, compromises in those conservative principles have been laid at the feet of the Clinton White House, the demands of the post-Sept. 11 government, or a Democratic-controlled Senate, said Scott Lilly, a former Democratic staff director of the House Appropriations Committee.

"The breakdown of regular order this cycle -- indeed the failure to get our bills done -- should be squarely placed at the feet of the departing Senate majority leader," said outgoing House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.).

Staff writers Christopher Lee, Dan Eggen, Steve Mufson and Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16244786/

© 2006 MSNBC.com

A few issues that could be addressed. before the grousing takes over again.

1. A large number of workers and managers are bragging about getting a lovely paycheck and their retirement at the same time! That means lots of scientists making about $200,000/year. This largess seems incompatible with complaining about job insecurity.

2. The labs non-weapons productivity, measured by patent licensing, is very small, about $50,000/year. (From Pete Lyons.) It seems wrong that this insignificant productivity, after 60 years of multi-billion dollar budgets (2006 dollars) has not improved.
Some of the older folks at LANL made out very nicely with the options offered by the RFP. However, they are in the minority.

The majority of workers: (1) don't have a chance to double-dip, (2) need their jobs to survive and pay big expenses, like kids, and (3) would be wiped-out, financially, if they ever got laid off and then couldn't sell their over-priced LA homes in a severly depressed market on the Hill. That's a strong set of reasons for having job insecurity at LANL.
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