The budget trimming begins, in theory

Wednesday - 1/5/2011, 10:08am EST

Bob Cusack, managing editor, The Hill

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

Incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says there are "tough decisions" ahead on the economy and federal spending.

The incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee says Republicans are committed to a campaign promise to cut federal spending to 2008 levels, without saying precisely what will be slashed. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin tells NBC's "Today" show it's difficult to say exactly what programs will be hit because the process is only beginning.

For feds with questions about whether the cuts will target their pay and benefits and concerned about how the cuts will hit their agencies, there is a reprieve of sorts on the horizon.

Before Congress can get that far down into the weeds, there is a much bigger issue to be decided: how to avoid a shutdown.

The federal government is operating under a continuing resolution until March 4th, but coming up with final budget numbers for FY 2011 will be a massive challenge for the 112th Congress being seated today.

Between now and March 4, the House is scheduled to be in session for 23 days with 20 days away from Washington, including the day the current funding expires.

The Hill says that leaves "the House Appropriations Committee two choices: pass 12 individual appropriations bills governing all aspects of federal funding, or pass a CR with a lower overall spending ceiling and a limited list of targeted spending cuts and rescissions of previously approved spending."

Bob Cusack, managing editor of The Hill, told Federal News Radio that in the past, during changes of power in Congress, "they just continued a CR, continuing resolution, until the end of the fiscal year so they were able to get most of their own appropriations bills, the new fiscal year bills, done in time."

Cusack pointed out there have been no final determinations made at this point about FY 2011 funding and how to handle it, but with repealing health care legislation being the stated first priority, that doesn't leave much time for either the appropriations bills outstanding or an omnibus.

Coming out of the gate, said Cusack, watch for the House to push to get more work done than the Senate. He explained that since Democrats are in control of the Senate, they'll wait until after January 25th to really roll up their sleeves. "If your party is in the White House," said Cusack, "you defer to the President. You swear in the members, but you don't do a lot of legislative activity until your President gives his State of the Union address. However, when you're in the opposing party, like the House Republicans now, they're going to be running out of the gate very quickly with this health care repeal law, with these new budget rules."

So, Cusack said, "look for most of the action in January to be in the House. The Senate, I don't think is really going to be getting going until after the State of the Union."