Most people would agree that policymaking by train wreck is not sensible. Unfortunately, that is the very situation the federal government is facing unless things change quickly. Because of the 2011 failure by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka the Super Committee, to make $1.2 trillion in targeted budget cuts, we may be headed for a fiscal train wreck.
When the Super Committee failed to make specific cuts, a provision originally intended as a Sword of Damocles to inspire lawmakers to action went into effect: automatic, across-the-board spending cuts. This provision, referred to as sequestration, will mean a 7.8% cut to all non-defense discretionary (NDD) portions of the federal budget, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Federal defense programs would be cut by about 7.5%. Unless an alternative plan is approved, the cuts will begin in January 2013.
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have approved a plan that would exempt the Defense Department from sequestration cuts. Exempting the Defense Department from the cuts would significantly increase the cuts to other federal programs. It is unlikely that the Senate would approve such a plan or that it would be signed into law by President Obama.
In an effort to encourage a balanced approach to deficit reduction, the ASCB joined forces with nearly 3,000 other national, state, and local groups whose missions would be hurt by across-the-board cuts. The organizations sent a letter to all members of Congress, saying, “NDD programs represent a small and shrinking share of the federal budget and of our overall economy. The NDD budget represented just 3.4 percent of our country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011, consistent with historical levels. Under the bi-partisan Budget Control Act, by 2021 NDD funding will decline to just 2.5 percent of GDP, the lowest level in at least 50 years. NDD programs are not the reason behind our growing debt. In fact, even completely eliminating all NDD programs would still not balance the budget. Yet NDD programs have borne the brunt of deficit reduction efforts.”
In an effort to understand the impact of sequestration on the federal programs administered by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), U.S. Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), a strong supporter of the NIH, wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, asking for a detailed account of how sequestration would be applied to HHS programs.
In her response to Markey, Ellen Murray, Assistant Secretary of HHS for Financial Services, highlighted the implications of sequestration on the NIH. Murray wrote, “As you note, the cuts projected by CBO [Congressional Budget Office] would limit the Department’s ability to accelerate scientific knowledge and innovation. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) could potentially eliminate 2,300 new and competing research project grants, with nearly 300 fewer grants issued by the National Cancer Institute.”
To read the exchange of letters between Rep. Markey and HHS, go to http://tinyurl.com/bubj3e9.—Kevin M. Wilson