Congress recesses until Nov. 13

Leaving us to ponder sequestration, the fiscal cliff and Halloween.

The six-month continuing resolution that assures funding at current levels for most government programs is on President Obama’s desk, and the House and Senate have left the rough-and-tumble of Washington for the rough-and-tumble of their reelection events. 

The American Association for the Advancement of Science just released a good report that clearly explains sequestration and its impacts on U.S. research and development. Please sit down before viewing the graphics that detail the impacts on science budgets if defense accounts are exempted from the sequester. 

President Obama has announced he will veto any legislation that exempts either defense or nondefense discretionary accounts, and any legislative fix that only "kicks the can down the road," or postpones the fix.

An informal group in the Senate is meeting to find a way to avoid sequestration with a balanced approach to deficit reduction that doesn’t rely solely on cuts to discretionary accounts (like science and tech). The group of senators, christened the Gang of Eight, includes Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Kent Conrad, D-N.D.; Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; Mike Johanns, R-Neb.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; and Mark Warner, D-Va. Senators Chris Coons, D-De., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., have also been in and out of the talks. According to the Congressional Quarterly (CQ), they have introduced their plan to at least 30 other senators interested in a balanced approach. Sequestration is due to take effect on Jan. 2, 2013 unless Congress overrides the provision with a new law. Most of these senators were in the Gang of Six that was trying to find a solution to these issues last summer.

Senator Durbin has floated the idea of a six-month extension on sequestration along with a framework for a more comprehensive solution that would serve as a "down payment" on deficit reduction until they could reach a bigger deal. CQ also reported that the House has not engaged in bipartisan talks and there doesn’t seem to be a plan to before the elections.

The "lame duck" congressional session will begin on Nov. 13, 2012. In that session Congress must not only approve a plan to avoid sequestration, but must decide whether to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire or partially expire, and decide whether to extend the payroll tax holiday. If you’ve heard the term "the fiscal cliff," that’s what it refers to: the cluster of statutory deadlines with major budgetary impacts that collide in early January. If anyone has an idea for a fiscal cliff Halloween costume, send a photo to your blogger, and we will make you famous. It’s bound to be the scariest costume of the season.