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Senate Appropriations Bill Shows Benefits of Replacing Sequestration

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the 2014 appropriations bill today for the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services (HHS), one of 12 appropriations bills Congress is supposed to enact before the fiscal year starts October 1.  The bill shows that policymakers can make modest, targeted investments in key areas like early education and medical research without slashing everything else if they cancel the harmful sequestration cuts scheduled for next year.

The bill reflects the committee’s decision to fund defense and non-defense discretionary programs at the levels set in the 2011 Budget Control Act before sequestration.  This approach is consistent with the Senate’s overall budget blueprint, which calls for replacing sequestration with a balanced package of deficit-reduction measures that include other spending cuts and higher revenues.

Under the bill, total funding for discretionary programs at Labor, Education, and HHS would be more than $14 billion above the 2013 level after sequestration.  Areas receiving additional funding include:

  • Medical research: The bill restores the $1.5 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health that sequestration imposed in 2013 and raises funding by $316 million above the 2013 pre-sequestration level.  (This is just a 1 percent increase, less than inflation).
  • Early education: The bill makes a significant down-payment on the President’s initiative to expand early education by funding the discretionary part of the proposal (which also included mandatory funding increases).  Specifically, it provides $9.6 billion for Head Start, $2 billion above the 2013 post-sequestration level and $1.6 billion above the 2013 pre-sequestration level, with the increases largely focused on programs serving infants and toddlers.  The bill also expands resources for child care assistance and for developing public pre-school programs.
  • Drug assistance for people with HIV/AIDS: The bill raises funding for life-saving drugs for HIV/AIDS patients by about $57 million over the post-sequestration level of funding available in 2013.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approach stands in stark contrast to the House Appropriations Committee approach, which cuts the overall amount of funding for Labor, Education, and HHS programs by $40 billion relative to the 2013 level before sequestration and by $33 billion — or 18.6 percent — relative to the 2013 post-sequestration level.

The House Appropriations Committee hasn’t yet drawn up its version of a Labor-Education-HHS funding bill.  Some observers think it may never do so; if that proves to be the case, we will never see how the House’s deep cut in resources for Labor, Education, and HHS would affect specific programs.  That would be unfortunate, as it would allow proponents of the House approach to tout their spending cuts in the abstract without having to take responsibility for what a funding reduction of that magnitude would actually mean for K-12 education, medical research, health care, and other priorities.