Good news: Budget deal ends threat of sequestration

Deal between House, Senate and Administration allows for spending increases in science and other areas.

White House officials and congressional leaders have agreed to a two-year deal, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, to raise the budget caps that have plagued federal budgeting since 2011.  The deal would raise the caps by $321 billion and suspend the debt ceiling until July, 2021. The budget deal also includes $77 billion in spending cuts that offset the higher levels of allowed spending. The offsets include increased fees and cuts to mandatory programs such as the Prevention and Public Health Fund. This fund has been used to help partially offset earlier budget deals.

The House will vote on the legislation before members leave July 26 for the August district work period.  The Senate will take it up afterward.

This deal will enable significant spending increases for scientific, education and health priority programs. For example, the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee has approved a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health. The Senate subcommittee has not yet acted on its version of the bill. But an increase of that size would not be possible if the restrictive caps remained in place. The agreement specifically authorizes $2.5 billion in spending for the 2020 Census, clearing the way for the often- controversial survey to be funded in time.  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's statement said: “This agreement represents a vast improvement over the harmful cuts contained in the President’s 2020 budget, restores certainty to our budgeting and achieves the priorities that Democrats have laid out from the beginning: [It] permanently ends the threat of the sequester, and prevents devastating funding cuts of 14% to defense spending and 13% to non-defense spending.”

Republican Senators predicted the bill would pass, but not without some opposition.  Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Senate Republican Whip, said “It probably won’t get all of our members but I think it will get a lot of them.“

The American Psychological Association and many other organizations have advocated that Congress eliminate the harmful, unrealistic budget caps that were included in the Budget Control Act of 2011.  The caps were so restrictive that Congress allowed them to take effect only once, in Fiscal Year 2013. Automatic spending cuts went into effect that year, an enforcement mechanism known as sequestration. A bipartisan agreement to lift the caps means Congress can increase spending on priority programs without forcing spending cuts in return.