Stopgap funding stops Nebraska jobs, starts season of uncertainty

Monday, December 27, 2010

This is the season of celebration when families and friends gather across our state for fellowship, to catch up and look forward to the promise of the coming year. Unfortunately, for quite a few Nebraskans the next few months and maybe longer will be a season of uncertainty.

Constitution Tells Congress to Set Spending

In school, we learn that the U.S. Constitution gives the power of the purse to Congress. That doesn't always work out for the best and how Congress recently handled federal funding decisions is a prime example. Every year, Congress is supposed to pass bills spelling out how much and on what the government will spend in the coming fiscal year that begins October 1.

This year, partisans in Washington stalled the spending bills. So, since October 1, Congress had approved short-term Continuing Resolutions that froze spending at current levels a few weeks at a time.

"Continuing Uncertainty" Bill Passed

Just before the holiday break, folks back in Washington had a choice: pass a catch-all spending bill allowing federal agencies and the states and localities that depend on Federal funds to operate effectively in 2011-- or kick the can down the road.

Congress kicked the can by passing, over my objection, a three-month Continuing Resolution. They really should call it a Continuing Uncertainty bill, because that's it does.

This stopgap bill will result in job loss and add pressure on local governments to raise taxes in Nebraska.

At a time when a $134 million cut in state education funding is on the table, it is dismaying Congress cut funding for Head Start. At a time when the University of Nebraska faces a possible $50 million cut in funding, Congress killed money for the promising Innovation Campus in Lincoln.

National Security Improvements in Limbo

With security concerns arising around the world, it's discouraging that Congress killed $11 million to upgrade entrance gates at Offutt Air Force Base near Bellevue, home to U.S. Strategic Command and our nation's nuclear command and control. It killed another $14.7 million for Army National Guard Readiness centers in Lincoln and Mead.

Also left uncertain is $10 million for the new STRATCOM, and $56 million to start modernizing Omaha's aging VA hospital that serves tens of thousands of Nebraska and Iowa veterans. These were Administration budget priorities, but now it's uncertain whether any work will be done in the coming year.

Despite what you might have heard from talk show entertainers, the difference between the 2011 spending bill and 2010 spending is not large, about 1 percent. But the difference in the impact certainly is. By passing just a three-month continuing resolution, Washington only made things worse.

Here's one example: the omnibus package would have increased funding for research to fight cancer. Killing it slows down research in every state to the point one cancer advocacy group says that we could see fewer than 1 in 6 research projects funded, the lowest in decades.

So, Washington bailed out on critical research and it bailed out on funding jobs for all sorts of work making Nebraska a better place to live in 2011. Instead, Washington sent Nebraskans a season of uncertainty.

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  • Someone might want to tell Ben he is a part of Washington and his party was and is in controll when all these decisions were made.

    -- Posted by Chaco1 on Mon, Dec 27, 2010, at 7:20 PM
  • Dear Senator Nelson,

    Thanks for updating us Nebraskans on the Stopgap Funding issue, it is appreciated.

    It seems that the lack of tax revenue is now starting to have a trickle down effect and is forcing many belts around the country to be tightened -- public and private. It works on the same principal as " Trickle Down Economics" except for the results are almost immediately evident, they cannot be ignored or postponed, and almost always mean a loss of Federal Funds that lower governmental agencies rely on to offset their own budget shortfalls.

    I was wondering if you could provide us with an update on a Senate Bill that seems to be perpetually hung up in the 111th Congress Senate Finance Committee, most recently since March 2nd, 2009. The Bill is S.506, "The Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act". The original Bill S.681 was introduced by the 110th Congress on Feb. 17th, 2007 and also succumbed to the same fate. Are there plans in the works to reintroduce this bill again soon in the 112th Congress?

    Many recent studies have made it clear that our country is suffering staggering tax revenue losses due to tax haven abuse. I would think this Bill would get the "fast track treatment" similar to the extension of the 2001 & 2003 tax cuts -- maybe it could even help offset their costs. To put things in perspective, the $40 billion lost every year to tax avoidance in these tax havens could fully fund all the Department of Agriculture Farm Subsidy Programs for two years, and still have $5 billion remaining to put in a fund to facilitate the proposed Ethanol and Biodiesel Pipeline development being considered under the Renewable Fuels Pipeline Act S.828, cosponsored by Senator Johanns. The Federal Government has to provide a loan guarantee to cover 90% of all costs. I wonder what Federal Government expenditures will be reduced or eliminated to allow tax revenue of that magnitude in support of a construction project of this size? Remember, everything is supposed to be deficit neutral these days.

    Thanks for considering my concerns,

    Best Regards

    -- Posted by Geezer on Mon, Dec 27, 2010, at 9:16 PM
  • Ben forgot to mention that the Dem congress had the power and the liberal votes to pass a budgets months ago. His party didn't even put one on the table because of mid-term elections just around the corner. All I can say is thankgod it didn't pass. The thing was full of earmarks that we cannot afford. Let's hope the incoming congress does a better job!

    -- Posted by remington81 on Thu, Dec 30, 2010, at 10:18 AM
  • remeington81

    There were a lot of earmarks - over 30,000.

    A review of earmarks for Nebraska show a large percentage directed towards the University of Nebraska for various programs and construction projects - about $70 million.

    About $15 million to City of Omaha for design and construction of facilities, etc.

    $2.4 million for McCook Economic Development - US Highway 83 Corridor Location Study.

    $56 million for construction and renovation of a VA facility hospital.

    Following is a link that gives state by state breakdown per Senator or Representative.

    -- Posted by Geezer on Thu, Dec 30, 2010, at 7:01 PM
  • remington81

    Following is a link to an article that Senator Nelson published in the G.I. Independent today explaining the earmark process and his use of them. It's a well balanced article - take a look if you have a second.

    -- Posted by Geezer on Fri, Dec 31, 2010, at 10:52 AM
  • Earmarks are earmarks and they need to stop. But I see you had no comment on the first part of my comment?? Plain and simple Ben has no one to blame but his own party for not putting a budget on the table way back this fall! So I have a hard to believing any of the BS in his article.

    -- Posted by remington81 on Sat, Jan 1, 2011, at 11:03 AM
  • remington81

    Actually the President did submit his budget request on Feb. 2, 2010 for the 2011 Budget, which runs from Oct. 2010 thru Sept. 2011.

    The budget was approved by the House of Representatives but not the Senate. Congress passed the first Continuing Resolution on Sept. 30, 2010 to keep government running until Dec. 3, 2010. On Dec. 22, 2010 another Continuing Resolution was passed to keep government running until Mar. 4, 2011.

    To date there have been 11 budget ammendments but no finalized overall budget has been passed.

    Because of varying thoughts on how to reduce spending and begin to address the longterm debt, there were many, many, committe meetings to gather information and testimony from our economists, business leaders, etc.

    Do you remember the bipartisan fiscal commission that the President finally had to appoint because the Conrad-Gregg bipartisan fiscal task force could only get a simple majority in the Senate, not the 60 required to pass?

    It isn't like President Obama hasn't been trying -that is not the case at all. Just so many varying opinions our congress hasn't been able to formulate a budget that is agreeable to all.

    -- Posted by Geezer on Sat, Jan 1, 2011, at 1:59 PM
  • *

    "It seems that the lack of tax revenue is now starting to have a trickle down effect and is forcing many belts around the country to be tightened -- public and private."

    Oh...the poor government doesn't have more of my money to hoo...such a travesty. Perhaps the government could put a real cap on spending and not just slow the increase of spending. Perhaps the government could actually follow through on some spending CUTS just like most American citizens have had to do. After all, it's just like the president says: We all have to have some skin in the game.

    -- Posted by Mickel on Sat, Jan 1, 2011, at 2:43 PM
  • Mickel

    I think everybody is trying to achieve the same goals - just utilizing different approaches. Our whole country benefits from Federal Government programs in one way or another. Some are liked more than others but they were all established to serve and to protect the needs of our people. Unfortunately they require tax revenue to operate.

    What areas of the Federal Government would you like to see reduced or eliminated, and why?

    -- Posted by Geezer on Sat, Jan 1, 2011, at 6:54 PM
  • Department of education it is a dismal failure.

    Energy Department it also is a failure.

    Department of Ag farm subsidies or farm welfare.

    There a re a few to start with. How about a 10% cut across the board for a start and we can go from there.

    Entitlements need to be reigned in theya re bankrupting the country. Privitazation of Social Security but that would will the cash cow the pols love to steal from.

    -- Posted by Chaco1 on Sun, Jan 2, 2011, at 10:21 AM
  • Chaco1 - Are you ready for the New Year?

    I have included the Federal Budget PDF for each of the departments you mention above. Take a look at the budgets and what the expenditures are used for and then tell me what impacts you foresee a 10% reduction would have.

    What a lot of people fail to realize is that a reduction of Federal Program Funding usually translates into another reduction of support systems that will ultimately burden the same group of people that are already paying the price.

    A prime example is the Department of Agriculture.

    There would be a 10% reduction in Crop Insurance Subsidies, Agriculture Marketing, Commodity Credit Corporation, Farm Loans, Rural Utility Subsidies, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rural Development, Rural Housing Service, etc.

    I guess it wouldn't be bad if you didn't need the assistance that these programs provide. But in the end you will be paying more for your Rural Electricity, Food, Housing, rural Infrastructure Systems, etc. because these costs will be transferred to the consumer in one form or another. This would have catastrophic consequences on our Senior Population that are surviving on fixed incomes.

    -- Posted by Geezer on Sun, Jan 2, 2011, at 12:45 PM
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