With Priorities Piling Up, Debt Extension Gives Room to Breathe

January 24, 2013 Bookmark and Share

The sense of comity that often comes with America’s peaceful transfer of power dissolved quickly this week into reality about the fiscal issues the country is facing.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were inaugurated for their second terms over the weekend, with formal ceremonies held Monday on the federal holiday celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his inaugural address, Obama outlined an extensive list of policy priorities to be addressed over the next four years, including immigration, climate change and a wide range of social issues and changes to social support programs.

Obama also alluded to the fiscal triple threat facing policymakers: the pending need to raise the nation’s debt ceiling or face default on obligations; delayed sequestration cuts, which are now set to go into effect in March; and regular federal spending, which is currently being allocated under a continuing resolution that also ends in March.

An agreement that surfaced last week will push off the first and most pressing of these issues until mid-May. The House of Representatives voted Wednesday 285 to 144 to extend the government’s borrowing authority until then, and the Senate is expected to soon follow suit.

This should clear space for negotiation, and hopefully agreement, on how and when the government will cut spending and what longer-term appropriations could look like.

New Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) indicated this week that her chamber will consider a budget resolution for the coming fiscal year. The Senate has not passed a budget, which outlines spending levels for appropriators, since 2009.

It’s clear that pending issues will affect ongoing efforts to write and pass a new farm bill. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) told Oklahoma farm broadcaster Ron Hays this week that fiscal uncertainty – and how Congress deals with it – is why his panel does not yet have a date scheduled for a farm bill mark-up.