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Lame Duck Session Brings Little Action

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December 14, 2012

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Lame Duck Session Brings Little Action

In the closing days of the 112th Congress, President Obama and congressional Republicans have reached a stalemate over the looming fiscal cliff. The lame duck session—the period between the end of the election season and the beginning of the new Congress in January—was supposed to be a time when lawmakers and the White House were to come to an agreement on pending tax issues and the automatic, across-the-board cuts in federal programs, including Perkins, that are scheduled to go into effect on January 2. For CTE specifically, this 8.2 percent cut, known in budgetary terms as sequestration, will result in a $92 million reduction in Perkins funding for the 2013-2014 school year if Washington cannot find a balanced agreement to fix the problem.

While there is general consensus among policymakers and the public that such arbitrary cuts to important domestic programs must be prevented, the major stumbling blocks to a deal have been over taxes and the amount of other spending cuts. Both sides agree that tax cuts enacted under the Bush Administration should be extended for the middle class; however, President Obama has insisted on raising the tax rate for those with household incomes over $250,000. Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner (OH), have pushed to maintain tax rates for higher earners, but are willing to limit tax deductions as a means to increase revenues. Sharp disagreements also exist over which spending cuts, particularly to entitlement programs like Medicare, should also be included in any deal.  

As a result of the deadlock in negotiations, the lame duck session has already been extended—originally scheduled to end on December 14— until at least Friday, December 21. Speaker Boehner has indicated that he will cut short the holiday break and bring the House back into session before the new year if a deal is not reached before then.

The partisan wrangling over the fiscal cliff has left little time or incentive to address other pending pieces of congressional business. The short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) that provides level-funding for Perkins through March 27 will remain in effect for now. There was some speculation that Congress might consider a full-year funding measure before the end of the 112th Congress, but that will be pushed off into 2013. Additionally, the reauthorization of major pieces of education and workforce training legislation that began in this Congress, including ESEA and WIA, will go back to the drawing board in January.

As the country waits for Washington to act, both sides seem unwilling or unable to pull us back from the fiscal brink.  Tell Congress that they need to find a balanced approach to fix sequestration. Tell them that cutting Perkins is not the pathway to a better economy! 

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