Tell Congress: It’s Time to Roll Back Sequestration
November 21, 2013
by Paula Skedsvold
No one intended for sequestration to actually happen, and neither party is pleased with the results. And this is only the beginning. As a result of the 2011 Budget Control Act, ten-year caps on discretionary spending were set in place and annual cuts to discretionary spending have begun. Another round of sequestration cuts is scheduled to kick in beginning in mid-January 2014.
It’s time to roll back sequestration. In recent years, over $1.6 trillion has been cut from discretionary programs (both defense and non-defense), even before sequestration. According to the Coalition for Health Funding, on the non-defense discretionary side (think funds for NIH, NSF, and IES as examples), the cuts “bring funding for NDD programs as a share of our economy to the lowest level on record, with data going back to 1976.“
The cuts have had real impact, and agencies will have difficulty absorbing another round. Sequestration needs to be replaced with a bipartisan, balanced approach to deficit reduction. Doing so will free up funds for needed investments, including those needed to shore up the struggling U.S. scientific enterprise. One of the best opportunities is before us, and Congress must act.
Following the 11th-hour deal to avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt, Congress agreed to move forward with a budget conference in the hopes that both major parties could build on that success and strike a budget deal that would reduce the deficit and yet allow for investments in important national programs.
The parties remain far apart in what they want to achieve, and soon after the budget conference was announced, it became obvious that a long-term deal would not be in the making. Still, a short-term deal that would roll back sequester for one or two years is within reach, and we hope budget conferees can find a path to get us there.
Appropriators are waiting too. In an October 31 letter, House and Senate Appropriations Chairs, Harold Rogers and Barbara Mikulski, asked the budget conference leaders to make reaching agreement on discretionary spending caps for FY 2014 and FY 2015 their top priority. Appropriators want to complete their work on the spending bills by Jan. 15th when the current Continuing Resolution funding government runs out. Doing so will “build momentum for a larger budget agreement that addresses the nation’s wide range of fiscal challenges,” they wrote.
What are the prospects? House majority staff have indicated that there is a good window of opportunity now. Budget conferees will be negotiating over likely modest changes in entitlement spending and possibly closing some tax loopholes. Chairwoman Murray, in a recent Washington Post Op Ed, wrote: “I am willing to meet Republicans halfway and make some compromises when it comes to spending reductions.” She added that by eliminating two tax loopholes, and combining that with “an equal amount of responsible spending cuts, we could replace more than two full years of sequestration’s cuts to education, research, infrastructure, jobs, and the military.” Other budget negotiators are looking at user fees and other non-tax revenue to offset sequestration cuts.
The budget conferees have until December 13 to agree on a plan and produce a report. Given the unpopular and dramatic cuts under sequestration, the plan should include, in the immediate, short-term relief from sequestration cuts.
Congress must act now to replace sequestration with a bipartisan, balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not unduly burden non-defense programs and allows reinvestment in science agencies for long-term innovation and growth.
Act now! Ask your federal elected officials to support, during these final weeks of the budget conference, a bipartisan, balanced resolution to deficit reduction that provides sequestration relief and supports needed investments in science.