Last year, Congress enacted the Budget Control Act (BCA) as part of a compromise over raising the debt ceiling. A 12-member joint congressional committee was created to develop a plan for an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction. If Congress failed to enact the additional savings, the bill provided up to $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that would go into effect in January 2013, known as sequestration.
Sequestration is hard because it is supposed to be, says Representative Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii. In a blog post on The Hill, she states that sequestration was "intended to bring the opposing parties to the table and motivate them to negotiate a way of spending less. That is why President Obama has threatened to veto legislation overturning the sequestration; it will force us to make the tough choices in reducing the debt and deficit now. Reducing the federal deficit is the responsibility of Congress, and requires concerted action to reach a bipartisan solution to our nation’s budget needs... A fair and balanced approach is one that continues to prioritize our national security while ensuring that important social programs continue to serve the population in need."
So here we are, six months away from "hitting a brick wall" as OMB Acting Director, Jeffrey Zients states in a recent Politico opinion article. "Specifically, members of Congress are now asking the Office of Management and Budget for a range of reports on the likely effects of the sequester. Meanwhile, OMB is beginning the internal analysis needed to implement the sequester, if Congress doesn’t take action to avoid it. But make no mistake: When bipartisan majorities in Congress voted for the BCA, they and the administration knew that this sequester would be destructive."
In the Zients opinion article, he stresses that while much attention has been paid to potential cuts in defense, the cuts in domestic programs would be equally devastating. "The domestic sequester would follow on sharp cuts to annually appropriated spending that are already bringing this category to its lowest level as a share of the economy since the Eisenhower administration... Specific information about programs affected by the sequester and the percentage reductions will not be determined until Congress provides funding for fiscal year 2013, the year the sequester takes effect. However, the sequester would cut overall domestic spending by about 8 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Because the BCA must carry out a full year’s worth of spending reductions only on Jan. 2, after a quarter of the year has gone by, the actual percentage cut to the remaining funds could easily reach double digits."
More clarity was given by Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources Ellen Murray, who spelled out what the 7.8 percent cut to the Department of Health and Human Services finances under the Budget Control Act would mean in a letter to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) dated June 29. In the letter, Murray cites a number of alarming reductions including reducing the Department's ability to support American families. She states "For example, up to 100,000 children would lose head Start servics and approximately 80,000 fewer children would receive child care assistance. In addition, approximately 12,150 fewer patients would receive benefits from our AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Approximately 169,000 fewer individuals would be admitted to substance abuse treatment programs and an estimated 14,200 fewer people who are homeless would receive assistance." Read the letter here.
What does this mean for the Network? Stay strong and say to your congressional representatives over and over again - "Enough with the posturing already. Spend the next six months doing the job you gave yourself under the BCA - pass a balanced deficit reduction that avoids the sequester." Funding for children's mental health has already taken a hit. We can't afford another one.
- Read a great explanation of sequestration by Dr. Paul Johnson here.
- Network faithful - fire yourself up with a little Gnarls Barkley and let your representative know that enough is enough - pass a balanced deficit reduction that avoids the sequester.