Congress resets the Countdown to Shutdown

Friday - 12/3/2010, 10:07am EST

Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

The government isn't out of the woods yet, when it comes to 2011 funding just because a new continuing resolution has passed Congress.

In fact, the director of federal tax policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities told Federal News Radio, now is when things get even more interesting.

Chuck Marr said the big questions will be whether an additional CR or an omnibus will be passed, and most importantly, if a CR, then how long it would keep the lights on for.

I think it would be best if the federal government had some certainty and the Congress decided to fund the government for the full year. I think that there is a risk though that you could see Senate Republicans at some point dig in and refuse to go along with that and perhaps make that next extension just a couple of months, get us into February which could set up quite a bit of a clash next year.

The key, said Marr, will be the negotiations over the legislative options during the next few weeks.

There's an effort in the Senate, said Marr, to fund the government in an omnibus bill. If that doesn't work "the next step would be to take, basically, the funding that you have now and extend that through the rest of the year. And I think right now that is the top option in the Senate." But, Marr warned, that may hit a snag.

While Marr said he thinks a shut down is "unlikely," his advice is to be ready for anything.

Obviously federal managers have to be prepared for some disruption here. There's a lot of other things going on. There's a tax fight going on. There's a fight over the START treaty. And the federal budget, the CR could get tied into that and you could also have a disruption so you have to always, obviously, be prepared for contingencies. You also have to be prepared in a few months that the whole budget outlook could change and you could face some pretty stern cuts.

Managers need to stay focused on the mission, said Marr, and help their employees do the same.

I think the bottom line is you're going to have a lot of political noise coming up. It's a volatile environment. The economy is very week. I think most important is keeping morale up and just making people recognize that this is very important work in which, obviously, these are professionals and they do that and they just have to keep their mind on the job.

But, since it's nearly impossible not to at least wonder about your budget for the remainder of FY 2011, Marr said the thing to watch for now is "signs where you get some insistence from the Republican side that they're only going to extend the federal government budget for a few months."

However, also watch for indications of "good work going on in the Senate" working on the full year. "I think that could provide some comfort."

Either way, Marr said not to worry too much about the push by each side ending up in a stand off.

"I think that you do see that the way that the shutdown fight was handled last time, that the folks who were on the side of shutting it down didn't do very well. So I think there is some caution about doing it again. I think that's a good sign."