Uncertainty Abounds in Fiscal Future

The new House majority, eager to fulfill campaign promises, has begun the rollout of weekly bills to cut spending. In the first week of the new session, the House voted to cut its own spending, and last week the House voted on reducing government printing costs and a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. For readers tracking “You Cut”, a vote is expected this week to eliminate taxpayer financing of presidential campaigns. The website also invites the public to vote on which “wasteful spending” items should be brought to the House floor, including which NSF grants to cut. It is unclear when these will come up for a vote. (Sign up here to receive Action Alerts from FABBS »)

The President, who will address the nation on January 25, 2011, in his State of the Union address, will be revealing his own cuts when he releases the FY 2012 budget in the coming weeks. According to Congressional Quarterly, the Administration is reviewing recommendations of the President’s fiscal commission to determine which should be a part of the new budget.

Prior to the President’s State of the Union address, the House will vote on a resolution to reduce non-security spending to FY 2008 levels or less for FY 2011. While funding domestic discretionary programs at 2008 levels amounts to a cut of $55 to $60 billion or 20 percent — a figure lower than the $100 billion promised in the campaign because the fiscal year started four months ago— some House Members are calling for the more significant cuts. During the week of January 17, 2011, the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of over 100 conservative members of Congress, introduced the Spending Reduction Act of 2011 which would hold FY 2011 non-security discretionary spending at 2008 levels, but then reduce spending to FY 2006 levels for the next nine years.

The debate over spending cuts will occur alongside efforts to create jobs, keep the economy going, and reduce the debt. Bob Greenstein, Executive Director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has stated that reducing spending to 2008 levels would be the “biggest cuts in discretionary spending in the nation’s history.” Noting that the nation faces long-term fiscal challenges and major changes are needed, he argues that leaders should take a long-term perspective and put into place now legislation that will address the fiscal problems as the economy recovers.

Although cuts to spending on the House side will likely face opposition in the Senate and perhaps with the White House, leaders will eventually have to agree on how much to cut and over what period. According to Greenstein, the biggest decision will be on the overall framework. A consistent message is that all groups who are concerned about what the proposed cuts will mean to services, or research, or education need to work together to push for a reasonable top-line number. It is a zero-sum game. Additionally, new Members of Congress need to hear from constituents about what the cuts will mean from jobs to their impact on community services, and why, for example, research is important to growing the economy or addressing major societal issues.

On the horizon, as these discussions occur, is the expiration of the current Continuing Resolution that funds government programs until March 4, 2011, as well as a vote to raise the debt ceiling weeks later. There will be negotiations on the overall framework for reducing the debt, growing the economy, and keeping the nation competitive. Scientists must be a part of that process. 

To make your voice heard, sign up for FABBS Action Alerts »