House budget expected March 20

Pros and cons will sound familiar.

The budget deficit never really left center stage, but the spotlight is about to shine on it again. House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan (R-WI) will release his Committee’s budget draft on Tuesday, March 20. The budget is expected to include a spending cap of $1.028 trillion, which is $19 billion below the cap that was agreed to by both houses of Congress last August in the Budget Control Act. As was the case last year, more conservative elements in the House majority will press hard for lower spending and faster deficit reduction than is palatable to the Senate majority.

Last year Ryan used the budget to define Republican priorities, including significant changes to Medicare. That budget was adopted by the House on a party-line vote but failed in the Senate. The Senate can be expected to reject the House Budget this year also, and negotiations between the two chambers will break along similar lines as those last year, e.g., how much to cut spending, whether to increase revenues by eliminating some special tax breaks, and how or whether to reform entitlement programs. Unlike last year, however, this year’s debate begins in the shadow of a large spending cut. The Budget Control Act required that the deficit be reduced an additional $1.2 trillion dollars or automatic cuts (a sequester) would take place in January 2013. Because Congress was unable to agree on how to reach that goal, the sequester looms in the future unless new legislation is passed to avoid it.

Advance word about the Ryan budget is raising concerns in public health and science advocacy organizations. According to the National Journal, Ryan plans to use the budget to exempt defense from the spending cuts required under the sequester. Defense spending was to account for $600 billion of all mandated cuts over 10 years. Ryan doesn't expect nondefense discretionary programs to pick up the slack. Instead, he wants entitlements to absorb the cost of a defense exemption. “House Republicans are continuing their efforts to reprioritize the savings called for under the Budget Control Act, because our troops and military families shouldn’t pay the price for Washington’s failure to take action,” said Ryan. Advocates of non-defense programs worry that exempting defense accounts will make the eventual cuts fall harder on health, science and education programs, and entitlement programs.

Over 900 health, education, workforce, and social service organizations, including APA, co-signed a letter to House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging them to protect funding for critical domestic programs and services.

Remember that the sequester language was written to provide incentives for both parties to come to the table for an agreement. The theory was, Republicans would be motivated to work with Democrats to find ways to avoid cuts to defense, and Democrats would be motivated to avoid cuts to domestic discretionary spending. Thus the language exempting defense from spending cuts can be expected to draw a lot of fire from Democrats.

The APA Science Government Relations Office will be working hard to help maintain current investments in health, science, and education programs. There are many ways you can keep up with these important issues. Subscribe to APA’s Science Policy Insider News, to the APAScience twitter feed, to this blog, and to APA’s Psychological Science Agenda.