Stopgap funding Stops Nebraska Jobs, Starts Season of Uncertainty

By Senator Ben Nelson

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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