Move along, nothing to see here

Super Committee fumbles.

The Washington Post is reporting that the Super Committee will acknowledge late today (Monday, November 21) that its members are unable to agree on a recommendation to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion over ten years. Ouch!  Before we discuss the ramifications to science and the rest of the budget, let’s just take a moment to wince on behalf of those members. Next we can wince on behalf of the rest of the American public whose approval of Congress is already at subbasement levels of 12 percent, according to a CBS - New York Times poll of last month. 

What will happen right away? Probably nothing. Unlike the threats from past crises that went to the wire, the government will not shut down, and the full faith and credit of the U.S. is not at risk, although the stock market may react negatively. Congress’s ability to address long-term problems is a casualty (see ‘wince,’ above).  Super Committee members of each party are blaming those of the other for wanting either to raise taxes on the rich, or not wanting to raise taxes at all.

The Budget Control Act that created the Super Committee calls for $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts to kick in at the start of 2013, with half coming from national security budgets. Many lawmakers have called for congressional action to reconfigure the automatic cuts (especially those to defense spending) and given that the cuts will not become law for a year, Congress does have the opportunity to rethink them. The same standoffs between the two parties will certainly affect whether such an effort is successful.

As it is, automatic cuts (half to defense, half to domestic discretionary accounts) would be harsh for science funding agencies. A letter from House Appropriations Committee Democrats to the Super Committee stated that, should the Committee fail to issue recommendations, the mandatory across-the-board cuts in 2013 would reduce the NIH budget by nearly eight percent, decreasing by 2,500 to 2,700 the number of research grants issued by the agency. Under the same scenario, the NSF budget would be cut by $530 million.

APA and other science organizations will certainly be advocating against such harsh cuts and looking for alternatives. Watch this blog for more updates.