With a limited number of legislative days left before the March 4 expiration of the current continuing resolution and House Republicans at odds with Democrats over about $34 billion in cuts, Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, predicted that Congress would pass another short-term funding extension.
"I don't think we will have time to adequately study and to do what we should do, confer with the committee, then have a conference [between the chambers]; we just don't have the time," Inouye said, adding that he was still reviewing the GOP funding guidelines. "So we will have to have a short CR."
The Senate is scheduled to be on recess the week of February 21 and not back until February 28, which will leave the chamber little time to consider the House package. The House is expected to vote on its own CR, which will include the cuts and replace the current stop-gap, the week of February 14.
Senate Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said he needs to study it more.
"I will look at it and decide later," Cochran said.
The Senate appropriators' comments come after the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee released the top-line funding level for each of the annual spending bills, or 302(b)s, which included a $10.2 billion, or 16 percent, cut from current levels for Justice and Commerce Department programs and an $11.5 billion, or 17 percent cut, for transportation and housing programs.
The panel's action was kicked off earlier Friday by the House Budget Committee, which sets the top-line discretionary spending level. The panel unveiled a cap of $1.055 trillion, which is $34 billion less than the $1.089 trillion 12-month total of the current continuing resolution, according to House Appropriations data.
The $1.055 trillion, however, is $74 billion less than President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget request, from which House Republicans have pledged to cut $100 billion - roughly the same amount need to cut fiscal 2011 nonsecurity discretionary spending to fiscal 2008 levels.
Under the Appropriations plan, $42.6 billion would be cut from nonsecurity discretionary spending, while $7.6 billion would be added to security spending, for a net cut of $34.98 billion.
If the new CR passes the GOP-controlled House, which is likely, the measure's passage is far from certain in the Democratic-led Senate.
Inouye, for one, doesn't support the cuts, which he believes would have deleterious effects on the economic recovery and weaken programs on which many Americans rely.
"I hope they realize that some of the cuts that they are proposing are going to cause some grave damage," Inouye said.
Two Justice Department programs that could see cuts are the Edward J. Byrne Justice Assistance Grants program and the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS program.
Byrne grants are the primary provider of federal criminal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions. The funds support all components of the criminal justice system, from multi-jurisdictional drug and gang task forces to crime prevention and domestic violence programs, courts, corrections, treatment, and information-sharing initiatives. The program received $170 million in fiscal 2008 and $519 million in fiscal 2010.
The COPS program has awarded more than $11.3 billion to advance community policing, including grants awarded to more than 13,600 state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. In 2008, COPS programs were provided with $587 million; in fiscal 2010, the program received $792 million.
Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said he wants to see more specifics, but he doubts the House GOP bill will pass the Senate.
"My sense is that there will be very little that comes over from the House to the Senate that will carry the day," Nelson said. "It [is] easy to talk about it; I want to see where the cuts go."
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., a member of the Appropriations Committee, said she was skeptical that cutting discretionary spending alone would do much to curb the deficit, which is projected to top $1.5 trillion for fiscal 2011, according to the Congressional Budget Office. She wants a balanced approach.
"Before I sign off on any cuts at any level, I am very interested to hear what the Republican leadership is going to put on the table to close the gap with revenues," Landrieu said. "Until I see some discussion on that, it looks like it's all just for show and gimmicks."
Senate Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she supports exploring the budget for cuts, but she noted that "I haven't seen the details."
"It is important that we look carefully at where we can cut right now," Hutchison said.