The Senate’s Budget Approach

Senate leaders on Tuesday unveiled an omnibus spending bill to fund the government’s operations for the 2011 fiscal year that they say would sustain the maximum Pell Grant at $5,550 (staving off a threatened cut by funding an existing shortfall) and boost funds for the National Institutes of Health by $750 million over the 2010 level.

The latter fact is one major reason why higher education leaders would prefer the Senate legislation to the yearlong continuing resolution that the House passed last week — others include the hundreds and hundreds of directed "earmarks" (and the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars represented by those earmarks) that the Senate legislation would channel to individual colleges and universities for pet projects requested by their elected representatives.

The 2011 fiscal year begin Oct. 1, without Congress passing any of the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the government’s operations for the year. Democratic leaders in the lame-duck 111th Congress are scurrying to pass a budget for the year before they limp home for the holidays (and taking that task out of the hands of a new Congress that has indicated that it will be less amenable to spending federal money). The two chambers are currently on different tracks toward how to do that, with the House favoring a continuing resolution that would fund most federal programs at their 2010 levels, and senators preferring passage of an all-inclusive "omnibus" bill.

The Senate’s approach, advocates for it said, would give lawmakers much more flexibility to emphasize priorities and shift funds among specific programs.

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INSIDE HIGHER ED

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