Breakdown of budget's big numbers

Breakdown of the big numbers
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

There are a lot of big numbers being tossed around in Washington these days: a $3.7 trillion budget proposal, $61 billion in cuts, a $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. Below is a breakdown of what they represent.

The 2012 budget proposal

l On Monday, President Obama submitted to Congress a $3.7 trillion budget for the 2012 fiscal year. This begins a debate that will last through summer about how much money federal agencies should receive. The next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The 2011 budget

l Before dealing with 2012, lawmakers must address 2011. The current budget is still under consideration because Congress never took action on it. The government is running on a stopgap measure called a continuing resolution, which expires March 4. House Republicans are looking to cut $61 billion from the 2011 budget. Debate over their plan begins Tuesday, and a vote is planned for Thursday.

Government shutdown?

l While House Republicans look to cut billions, Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) is crafting his own spending plan. He hasn't released details, but he has publicly ridiculed the House approach. Inouye doesn't plan to take his measure to the Senate floor until just before the March 4 deadline. Unless the two sides reach a deal on the budget before then - or on another stopgap measure - the government would shut down.

A vote on the debt limit

l Once a budget deal is reached, Congress will vote on increasing the federal debt limit above its ceiling of roughly $14.3 trillion. This is the amount of money the federal government can legally borrow. If the ceiling isn't raised, the United States will begin to default on its loans. No one wants that. But Republican leaders have said they won't vote to raise the ceiling unless Obama agrees to budget reforms, such as mandatory spending caps.

About that 2012 proposal

l By mid-summer, assuming there is agreement on the current budget and the debt ceiling, Congress will begin consideration of the 12 spending bills that would fund the government next year. That, too, will be tricky. Obama submitted his plan Monday. House Republicans are expected to submit one with deep cuts, and Senate Democrats will have a plan, too. Unless the details can be reconciled, a year from now the government might again find itself where it is today: trying to finish one budget process as another starts.

- Paul Kane

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