CR Has Pluses, Minuses

WASHINGTON — The $1.2 trillion continuing resolution the House approved Wednesday to keep federal agencies and programs funded through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 would increase funding for financial regulators and extend transportation and aviation funding as well as nuclear loan guarantees.

But the CR also would freeze discretionary spending at fiscal 2010 levels, eliminate earmarks, and cut high-speed rail funding to $1 billion from the $2.5 billion that was provided in last year’s fast-rail appropriations. President Obama had requested the rail funding reduction in his budget.

The measure does not include a $50 billion investment in infrastructure or funding for a national infrastructure bank that the president has urged Congress to approve.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, both charged with fulfilling hundreds of new mandates under the Dodd-Frank law, are among the few regulators that would benefit from the continuing resolution.

It would boost the SEC’s budget by more than 10% to $1.25 billion for fiscal year 2011. The CFTC’s budget would rise about 35% to $261 million if the CR is ultimately enacted.

The resolution would extend through Sept. 30, 2011, existing federal programs that include the highway trust fund that reimburses states for surface transportation projects.

The House approved the measure Wednesday by a vote of 212 to 206. The Senate would need to vote on the measure or on their own legislation — such as an omnibus appropriations bill that Senate Democrats have suggested they prefer — this week or risk a government shutdown on Dec. 18, when the current CR expires.

The federal government, including ­programs that authorize highway and airport user-fee revenues, has been operating under a series of continuing resolutions since Oct. 1.

The stopgap measures are intended to keep the government afloat due to the ­failure of Congress to approve 12 appropriations bills for fiscal 2011.

“At a time when we are apparently extending huge tax cuts for millionaires and we’re giving families worth ten million dollars or more a bye on paying taxes on their good fortunes, this Committee has done its dead level best with the constraints under which we are operating,” said departing House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, D-Wisc.

It was unclear Thursday if the Senate would take up the House measure or substitute it with an omnibus appropriations measure.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., deferred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on that question, while a committee staffer deferred to Senate leadership.

Sources said the issue could be resolved in time for a vote in the Senate on ­Monday.

“They’ll probably fool around all next week doing that,” said one market participant. “I think it’s going to end up being the [continuing resolution that is voted on] one way or another.”

Some transportation stakeholders applauded the House-approved extension.

The group Transportation for America said the extension through Oct. 1 of surface-transportation programs set to expire Dec. 31 would provide state and local officials with “the certainty they need to proceed on crucial infrastructure projects while allowing … Congress ample time to craft a long-term reauthorization bill.” However, the group criticized the decision to cut high-speed rail funding and urged the Senate to restore it.

In addition, the House measure would provide $7 billion of new federal loan guarantees for nuclear power plants — a provision that drew opposition from some fiscally conservative groups.

As previously reported in The Bond Buyer, Congress’ decision to rely on short-term budget stopgaps had stymied its efforts to heighten the importance of the SEC’s municipal securities office as well as to launch and staff five other new offices, including one for credit rating agencies and another for whistleblowers.

If the House continuing resolution is ­enacted, the SEC would have the congressional authorization to fulfill these and other mandates.

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