As we all know, Republicans spitefully adjourned the 109th Congress with only passing two of its 11 annual spending bills, those that fund defense and homeland security and punted spending measures for virtually every one of the government's domestic programs to the Democrats who assume control Jan. 4, leaving behind just enough spending authority to keep the government operating through mid-February. Democrats, having no real alternative, announced they will pass a joint House-Senate resolution will keep the government open through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, largely at last year's levels - resulting in cuts to many programs. Democrats have also wisely chosen to wipe out thousands of lawmakers' pet projects, or earmarks from said spending resolution.
"We did not call the shots here," maintained incoming House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.), who said that with the fiscal year well underway and Democrats assuming power with a full slate of priorities, he will have little choice but to put the government on autopilot. "We will try to provide modest adjustments where we can, but a lot of people will be left short."
Indeed, not only will popular programs take a hit, but the Republicans' inaction has a lot of immediate consequences for a lot of people.
The federal judiciary would run out of money to pay lawyers for poor defendants by July, effectively locking up the wheels of justice because trials could not proceed without legal representation for defendants... At the Justice Department, officials said a resolution financing the government largely at 2006 levels would only worsen a severe staffing shortage at offices of U.S. attorneys around the country. The vacancy rate for federal prosecutors stands at about 10 percent on average, and House Democrats reported earlier this year that some larger offices have rates surpassing 20 percent.
The federal court system would not be spared, either. Operating at current funding levels would leave the judiciary with a $270 million shortfall for salaries and expenses, said Dick Carelli, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Furloughs, layoffs or attrition would be needed to trim the payroll by 7 percent -- or almost 3,000 probation officers, court clerk workers and pretrial service staff members -- by the close of the fiscal year, Carelli said.
The Department of Energy is looking at a 20 percent cut in its administrative budget and could be forced to lay off many of the 960 people who help manage the department -- secretarial aides, lawyers and human resources staffers, said Craig Stevens, a department spokesman.
Merry freakin' Christmas.