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Time for a Balanced Approach to Appropriations

A current debate in Congress could force a costly government shutdown, inflicting on the economy a shock that we do not need and cannot afford

Right now, Congress is appropriately focusing on putting money in the pockets of middle-class families by extending and expanding the payroll tax cut and extending unemployment insurance – both of which are critical to our economic recovery. Yet beneath the radar, there’s another important debate heating up over how we fund all the things that government does year in and year out – from financing education to inspecting our food, equipping our military, and helping those down on their luck afford a decent meal. And if it’s not resolved in a balanced, bipartisan way, Congress could be forcing a costly government shutdown, inflicting on the economy a shock that we do not need and cannot afford. 

This debate is not about how much we spend; it’s about what your taxpayer dollars are spent on. In August, Congress and the President agreed on overall package that puts what is called discretionary spending on a path to its lowest level as a share of the economy since the Eisenhower Administration. Some wanted to cut less, some more, but that was the deal. The debate now is about how Congress allocates your tax dollars, and if Congress chooses to use funding bills to make policy in areas that have nothing to do with dollars and cents.

The President supports a balanced approach that cuts waste where we can so that we are able to invest in areas critical for job creation in the short term and winning the future over the long term. He believes that responsibility should be broadly shared, and that we should not burden the most vulnerable Americans, while rewarding millionaires, billionaires, and large corporations.

Unfortunately, some Republicans in Congress want a different approach. Some want to break the deal we shook hands on in August and make deeper cuts, forcing a third of the budget to bear the whole burden of deficit reduction. Others want to ignore a critical provision designed to ensure victims of natural disasters, like Hurricane Irene, get the help they need. Some want to slash funding for programs critical to the middle class and our economic future such as President Obama’s Race to the Top education reform initiative, health reform, environmental protection, and critical research and development in clean energy and advanced manufacturing. They want to deny funding and use other provisions to stop Wall Street reform which will make sure that taxpayers are never again on the hook for Wall Street’s failures, hold Wall Street accountable, and protect consumers.

Republicans are also once again trying to use the budget process to enact a right-wing, ideological agenda by tacking on more than 100 provisions that have nothing to do with funding (called “riders”). For instance:

  • Even though under current law no Federal funds are permitted to support abortion at family planning clinics, the House Republicans have included a rider that would eliminate funding for Title X Family Planning programs, thus limiting women's access to healthcare services.
  • Another rider would effectively eliminate funding to Planned Parenthood, a critical provider of women’s health care services around the country.
  • A number of provisions would effectively halt or prevent the implementation of the Affordable Care Act or Wall Street Reform.
  • One provision blocks federal effort to protect lands around the majestic Grand Canyon from mining activities. 
  • Another provision would prohibit the use of funds for Consumer Product Safety Commission's public product safety database, which enables consumers to learn which products are hazardous to them and their families.
  • More than a dozen riders would roll back years of bipartisan progress on protecting the public’s health through clean air and clean water laws.

When the Republicans tried to pass these measures in April, the President held firm – and Congress took the country within hours of a government shutdown before agreeing to a reasonable, middle path. The date may have changed, but the President’s priorities have not – nor has his commitment to stop attempts to shortchange our future and pass extreme, ideological riders. Congress needs to do the work it was sent here to do to pass a balanced bill and prevent an avoidable crisis. The President is eager to sign something that solves this problem quickly, but he is prepared to veto anything that includes extreme ideological measures or cuts that undermine our growth. 

If congressional Republicans want to avoid a veto and are serious about avoiding a costly government shutdown and preventing the uncertainty that a shutdown would bring to our markets and our economy, they will stop attempting to re-litigate the August agreement and abandon ideological stunts. With only weeks before Congress plans to head home and several critical deadlines looming for programs that matter to Americans, we hope Republicans in Congress choose to transcend party differences and pass funding legislation that is right for the country and that the President can sign.