House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s new budget would cut the part of the budget that supports everything from education and law enforcement to biomedical research to nutrition assistance by more than $1 trillion below the funding caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) over the next decade. That’s hundreds of billions of dollars below the funding levels that would result from nine years of sequestration.
“Non-defense discretionary” programs — which Congress funds through annual appropriations bills — are already slated to fall to historically low levels under the BCA caps (and that’s before sequestration). Funding for those programs will shrink by 2017 to its lowest level on record as a share of the economy, in data that go back to 1962, and fall further thereafter. The Ryan budget would cut their funding by $1.1 trillion more over the next decade (see chart).
Under the Ryan budget, these programs would be roughly 18 percent below the BCA caps each year.
These cuts are far more severe than would occur if sequestration were to remain in place in 2013 and beyond for these programs. Indeed, over the decade the Ryan budget would cut non-defense discretionary programs $700 billion below the post-sequestration levels.
The Ryan budget takes a very different approach to defense programs, however, canceling the sequestration cuts for all years starting in 2014 and funding defense at the BCA cap levels.
The Ryan budget doesn’t specify what programs the $1.1 trillion cut in non-defense discretionary funding would come from. His budget states an intent to spare veterans’ programs from any cuts; if so, then other non-defense discretionary programs would need to be cut even more deeply to meet its funding levels.
A quarter of non-defense discretionary funding goes for programs that help low-income Americans meet basic needs and climb the economic ladder, such as Head Start, WIC, child care, homelessness prevention, low-income housing assistance, and services for frail elderly and disabled people. Likewise, a quarter goes to states and localities to provide various public services. (These two categories overlap, since states and localities provide most low-income assistance. In all, one-third of non-defense discretionary funding goes for low-income assistance or to state and local governments.)
In addition, non-defense discretionary funding supports investments that can boost future productivity growth, such as in education and basic research, as well as services ranging from border patrol to food and water safety.
Given the extent to which this part of the budget is already shrinking, there’s simply no way to cut it by more than an additional $1 trillion without causing significant harm both now and in the future.