The fiscal year ends Sept. 30 — and we’re back to brinksmanship

Oct. 1 government shutdown will result if Congress can’t agree whether to fund Affordable Care Act.

The House of Representatives today passed a bill to fund the government through Dec. 15, 2013 at fiscal year 2013 funding levels. But it's never that simple, is it? This Continuing Resolution also defunds the Affordable Care Act, which has survived 41 previous attempts in the House to repeal it. If the bill is not signed by the president before Oct. 1, the government will have no legal authorization to spend money and will shut down.

So, here's what most savvy observers expect to happen. The House passed the bill with the repeal. In the next few days the Senate will pass the bill with an amendment to strike the repeal. And then — the game of chicken begins in earnest. Before the bill can be sent to the president, the House and Senate must pass the same version. Will the Democrats blink to keep the government from shutting down? The Senate majority says the Senate does not have the votes to pass a provision repealing “Obamacare,” and President Obama says he will not sign a bill that repeals it. Will the House majority finally admit that they don't have the votes to get of the healthcare law, and pass the Continuing Resolution without the repeal? It's not “Breaking Bad,” but this is pretty compelling drama.

Your blogger promised you an update on sequestration — so here's the latest. Despite very heavy advocacy activity supporting a repeal, the path to repeal sequestration is just not there. What is needed is a “Grand Plan” in which federal spending, revenues and entitlements are on the table — the type of effort that led to the original Budget Control Act. Instead we have (continuing) gridlock. That may change with the coming imperative to raise the federal borrowing limit (debt limit) by mid-October. While the president has said he will not negotiate any policy changes on the back of raising the debt limit, an opportunity to negotiate may present itself. Certainly House Republicans would like to use the occasion to negotiate additional spending cuts or other issues.

Wondering what the cuts would be to research funding if sequestration remains in effect during FY 2014? A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains that because non-defense accounts have been cut more than defense accounts, sequestration in FY 2014 should fall mostly on defense: if, that is, Congress doesn't make other changes to the law, and if Congress sticks to the law as it was written. The report says:

“If sequestration remains in effect, non-defense discretionary funding in 2014 will be at about the same level as in 2013, while defense funding will be $20 billion below its 2013 funding level . This would occur largely because Congress made one-time changes to the BCA in the “fiscal cliff” bill that caused defense to be cut $20 billion less in 2013 than the BCA would have originally required under sequestration. In contrast, these changes had little net effect on funding for non-defense programs in 2013, causing it to be cut by roughly the same amount as originally called for.”

The bottom line from CBPP is that these defense reductions in 2014 are needed to restore the parity between defense and non-defense programs that the BCA requires, but which policymakers circumvented in 2013.

The chart prepared by CBPP shows that since FY 2010, non-defense discretionary (NDD) accounts (which include NIH, NSF, other non-defense science agencies) have been cut 15.7 percent, and defense 11.6 percent. If sequestration continues into FY 2014, NDD will have been cut by 17.8 percent since FY 2010, and defense by 17 percent.

Clearly the best outcome for science funding agencies is for sequestration to be repealed outright, but those agencies would no doubt be grateful to get through the upcoming budget cycle without additional cuts.