Agreements on Federal Spending Appear Elusive

March 14, 2012

by Paula Skedsvold

In the month since the President's FY 2013 budget request arrived in Congress, both the House and Senate have been busy with budget and appropriations work. Reports are that the House will bring a budget resolution to the floor on March 21st, a resolution that will set a discretionary cap at $1.028 trillion or $19 billion below the $1.047 trillion cap that was agreed upon in the Budget Control Act (BCA) or debt ceiling deal in 2011. The lower amount is needed to prevent House conservatives from offering an alternative budget and to win their support for passage of appropriations bills.

In contrast, the Senate will use the $1.047 trillion cap established for FY 2103 in the BCA as its spending limit for appropriations. While the Senate is not planning to vote on a budget resolution, appropriators will proceed with work on the appropriations bills using the BCA cap. The difference between chambers in overall spending limits suggests that reaching agreement on the FY 2013 appropriations bills will be difficult and that a CR will again likely be needed moving into the fiscal year and through the November elections.

Meanwhile, a great deal of attention is turning to the impacts of the sequestration that is scheduled to take effect in January 2013, that is assuming Congress does not act to reverse it. Recall that the BCA put into motion automatic cuts to discretionary spending if the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction did not reach a deal, cuts that would be spread equally over 9 years starting in 2013. Fifty percent of the cuts would be to defense and 50% to non-defense discretionary and mandatory programs (although there are a number of exceptions, none of them for science funding). The cuts will amount to $55 billion per year over 9 years for both defense and non-defense programs. No deal was reached last year, and some Members of Congress have called for protecting defense programs, which could mean that non-defense programs (including those that fund most scientific research) would bear the full burden of the cuts.

To avert the across the board cuts (which amount to 9.1% for non-exempt, nondefense discretionary programs), multiple alternative plans for reducing the deficit are in development, a number with bi-partisan support. It is uncertain whether these groups will have more success than prior commissions, "gangs, or groups that also worked across party lines. FABBS is working in coalition with the broader scientific community to advocate for science and an approach to deficit reduction that does not harm valuable programs that strengthen the nation and improve the lives of Americans.