One problem down, but several more remain.
Congress has been in recess for most of August, and will remain out of session until after Labor Day. Before the legislative branch left town, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he had negotiated a deal with the House leadership to approve a six-month Continuing Resolution (CR); that is, a bill to keep the government going through March 2013, in the absence of the adoption of fiscal year 2013 spending bills. The agreement was for a “clean” CR at fiscal year 2012 spending levels, with no new policy changes. Good news, right? A smattering of civil discourse and legislative compromise is as welcome as a fresh breeze here in steamy Washington, D.C. It goes without saying that there is some grumbling in the congressional ranks about this agreement but it’s likely to stick. There is a chance that after this legislation is passed and signed in mid-September, Congress will fold and adjourn until after the election.
But wait, you ask: isn’t there some other really important piece of business that this Congress needs to accomplish? Yes there is: enormous automatic spending cuts are set to smite defense and non-defense accounts across the board in January 2013, unless Congress acts to override the Budget Control Act provision and prioritize and direct the cuts, and maybe add some revenue. Without congressional action, $55 billion will be taken off the top of the defense budget, and $54 billion will be taken off the top of almost everything else. Any legislation to stave off those cuts, which are called “sequestration,” will have to wait until the post-election “lame duck” session. The same goes for legislation to extend the expiring Bush-era tax cuts and the temporary payroll tax cut. Congressional Republicans and Democrats do not agree on how or whether to extend various tax cuts, which expire in early January. The prospect of this factional Congress wrestling with such weighty questions after the election seems just as unlikely to result in an amicable agreement as it does before the election.
Many organizations are working hard to make the case against sequestration. A study released this month by the Aerospace Industries Association and Econsult Corporation estimates that budget cuts to Federal Aviation Administration operations as a result of sequestration could cost up to 132,000 aviation jobs and drain $80 billion a year from the nation’s gross domestic product. The American Public Health Association published a good frequently asked questions document that details some of the costs of large cuts to public health service agencies. To make your voice heard on the importance of federal investments in scientific research, we urge you to participate in a September webinar that APA and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences are conducting to prepare our members to to visit members of Congress in their home district offices to advocate against sequestration. (See details in the PSA story, “Calling all scientists: APA and FABBS to organize District Science Lobby Week.”)