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House GOP Proposal Would Cut Non-Defense Well Below Sequestration Level

Dozens of House Republicans led by Georgia’s Tom Graves recently introduced a continuing resolution to fund the government in fiscal year 2014 at $967.5 billion.  That total matches the combined defense and non-defense caps for discretionary funding next year under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) if sequestration remains in place.  But, the bill would provide about $44 billion more defense funding, and about $44 billion less non-defense funding, than the sequestration level.  It would also halt implementation of (and delay funding for) health reform for one year.

The bill would:

  • Replace the BCA’s separate caps for defense and non-defense funding with a single cap on discretionary funding of $967.5 billion for 2014 (about $20 billion below overall discretionary funding in 2013, not adjusting for inflation).
  • Enact three 2014 funding bills that the House has passed:  defense, military construction and veterans’ affairs, and homeland security.  These bills received the largest increases over 2013 funding levels under the House Appropriations Committee plan.
  • Require an across-the-board cut of more than 10 percent for all remaining programs, relative to their 2013 funding levels after sequestration.

The bill would require deep cuts in non-defense discretionary programs outside of veterans and homeland security.  The cuts would be like the indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts imposed under the 2013 sequestration, which both parties roundly criticized, but would be substantially larger.

All non-defense programs (outside the veterans’ and homeland security bills) would be cut by the same percentage, with no distinctions for the relative importance of various programs or the impacts of the cuts.  Medical research, environmental clean-up, job training, K-12 education, and air traffic controllers would all shrink by the same percentage as every other affected program, to well below the 2013 post-sequestration levels.

Consider Head Start.  In 2013, sequestration cut the program by 5 percent (about $400 million), forcing the loss of 57,000 children from the program and shorter school days or school years for thousands more.  If Head Start were cut by another 10 percent below the 2013 level next year, the total cut would exceed $1 billion and the number of children losing Head Start would rise dramatically.

Deep cuts in non-defense programs are the unavoidable result of the Graves bill’s approach of raising defense funding while adhering to the BCA’s low, post-sequestration discretionary funding total of $967 billion.  The House Appropriations Committee tried a similar approach but failed when it became clear that House Republicans had little stomach for passing individual appropriations bills that explicitly identify the cuts for particular programs.

House Republican leaders, for example, had to withdraw the bill to fund the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) this summer when they could not gather the needed votes.  Yet the Graves bill would cut programs in the Transportation-HUD bill more severely than the failed House Appropriations Committee bill would have.

Joel Friedman
Vicepresidente Sénior de Política Fiscal Federal