Congress moves one step closer to avoiding a government shutdown

March 20, 2013

The Senate passed a short-term budget measure this afternoon to fund the government beyond March 27, which would avert a government shutdown but keep most of the budget cuts under sequestration in place.

Passing the Senate on a 69 to 30 vote, the Continuing Resolution would fund the government for the next six months, and it's widely expected to pass the House tomorrow. It makes a number of select adjustments to the $85 billion in spending cuts that took effect March 1, attempting to soften the blow of the across-the-board reductions. The changes including higher funding levels for a handful of different programs, including meat inspection and tuition help for military service members, in addition to tweaks to military and defense that the House included in its original CR.

But since the Senate bill doesn't change the top-line level of sequestration cuts, the money that goes to bolster those areas needs to come from somewhere else, in some instances within the same agency*. And those programs that were spared additional cuts from the CR are still subject to sequestration.

So, what good is the Senate's CR if it only makes marginal tweaks to sequestration? Basically, it decouples the bigger budget from a potential government shutdown, acknowledging that there's really no chance that Congress will come up with a deal to replace sequestration and find a resolution on bigger fiscal issues before March 27. Like every other budget bill that Congress has passed since the August 2011 debt-ceiling bill, it puts off the hardest decisions for another day.

Correction: An earlier version of this story cited a New York Times story that political science research funding was cut to bolster money for cancer research. The amendment that passed deemed that political science research money would be cut unless the National Science Foundation director determined that the results would affect "the national security or economic interest" of the U.S.

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Brad Plumer · March 20, 2013