This is the week Congress and its Budget Conferees are supposed to reach a deal that addresses the differences between their respective FY14 budget resolutions. You know, the same differences in the same resolutions that triggered the shutdown.
If there is a silver lining, it is that even if Congress misses this week’s deadline, it doesn’t trigger a shutdown. Sure, it’s another missed timeline, but it doesn’t carry a stiff penalty. Read related blog post from NCE Federal Relations speaker Stan Collender. (Speaking of….have you signed up for NCE yet? We’re in Nashville in February!)
There are many moving pieces, and almost all of the information on the potential budget deal is second-hand. This holds true even on Capitol Hill: the minority in each chamber (Senate Republicans and House Democrats) are relying on media for information!
Should a deal be reached, no one is expecting a grand deal. If anything, it would likely just tweak the Budget Control Act sequester caps. If that can be agreed to, that still leaves each chamber’s Appropriations Committees to dividing up their respective allocations to subcommittees and those subcommittees will complete the usual process of allocating spending. At this point, that is normal process, though the timeline is ridiculously off and the political parameters are skewed.
Looping back to an earlier point, missing this week’s deadline isn’t that problematic; it’s more of the same, Congress not meeting deadlines, this is just a less consequential deadline. The big issue—something AASA has been messaging about consistently—is the outcome of the funding discussions as it relates to the final FY14 appropriations levels, and the ability of Congress to ensure that the final levels for FY14 are pre-sequester. Failure to ensure that sequester cuts are not part of the final FY14 deal will lock federal education spending at pre-2004 levels. THIS is the portion of the discussion to be watching, this is the discussion to have with your Congressional delegation, this is the timeline and action item that is most immediately make-or-break.
Given Congress’ track record, we can generously assume that they won’t reach a final FY14 deal by the January 15 deadline. Then what? Everyone wants to avoid a shutdown, so there will be another continuing resolution. Odds are it would simply extend the current CR funding levels. While this is good in that it technically buys time to complete a final FY14 funding level that is pre-sequester, it also pushes the CR expiration ever closer to the end of the fiscal year (Sept 30), making it all too convenient and tempting—especially in an election year—to do a year-long CR. See the previous paragraph as to why the current CR is problematic as a year-long solution.
All of this context is a long way of saying, check the blog and follow twitter (@Noellerson) a lot this week. There will be a lot of moving pieces and quick updates. As soon as we have anything more permanent, we’ll get it out to you!