No one ever expected that the across-the-board, draconian funding cuts identified as “sequestration” to be implemented. However, that’s just what will happen on January 2, 2013 unless the essentially dysfunctional US political system manages to get its collective act in gear to stop it.
Sequestration was proposed as a solution that was so drastic that it would force our leaders to come up with an effective solution to reduce the budget with less unwelcome impact while reducing the US budget deficit by $1.2 trillion. The White House released its required report to Congress on the potential impact should an alternative not be developed and sequestration be implemented. From the White House report, “no amount of planning can mitigate the effect of these cuts. Sequestration is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument.”
Some 1,200 budgets would be affected touching many important defense and non-defense programs. As summarized by Sarah Kliff on the Washington Post WonkBlog:
A quick reminder of what each of these categories encompasses:
• Non-exempt defense discretionary funding sees a 9.4 percent spending reduction. This covers things, such as keeping military bases open, paying salaries and research and development.
• Non-exempt mandatory defense spending sees the biggest cut of 10 percent.
• Non-exempt, non-defense discretionary funding gets cut by 8.2 percent. This includes anything that Congress has to authorize each year, so programs like Head Start and AIDS assistance.
• Non-exempt, non-defense mandatory programs see a 7.6 percent reduction. There’s not, however, much left to cut in this category because the large mandatory programs were largely shielded from the cuts. More on that right below.
• Medicare is, well, Medicare – the health insurance program for America’s seniors. The sequester specifically limited Medicare cuts to 2 percent of the program’s budget.
Keep in mind, certain programs are exempt from the sequester completely. Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Social Security, for example, do not get touched at all. And within the programs listed above, there are specific, smaller programs that get carved out as untouchable too.
Federal research programs at NIH, NSF, NASA, Dept. of Energy, NOAA, EPA, and others fall under the non-defense discretionary funding group and would be cut by 8.2%. David Malakoff provides a summary of the impact on science funding programs from the report at Science Insider.
There remains time for this situation to be resolved, but it will certainly not happen until after the November elections and then, a lame duck Congress will have to tackle the issue. Prepare for a bumpy ride.