Discretionary programs differ from “entitlement” programs that are funded rather automatically to meet the needs of all who qualify for them. Discretionary programs are those that Congress funds annually through the appropriations process. Congress retains complete discretion, or choice, on whether to fund discretionary programs and at what level.
Nondefense discretionary or “NDD” programs are core functions government provides for the benefit of all, including medical and scientific research; education and job training; infrastructure; public safety and law enforcement; public health; weather monitoring and environmental protection; natural and cultural resources; housing and social services; and international relations. Every day these programs support economic growth and strengthen the safety and security of every American in every state and community across the nation.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25) established caps on discretionary spending for over 10 years, resulting in $1 trillion in cuts spread across defense and NDD programs. The law also directed a congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to identify an additional $1.2 trillion in budgetary savings over 10 years. The failure of the bi-partisan “super committee” to come to an agreement on a deficit reduction plan triggered a “sequester” to take effect on January 2, 2013.
To sequester means to set apart or to take something away until a debt has been repaid. In the context of funding federal programs, sequester means imminent, across-the-board cuts to most programs, both defense and nondefense—in addition to the $1 trillion in cuts already sustained through the Budget Control Act’s discretionary caps.
There are a few discretionary programs that are exempt from the sequester in the first year, such as Pell grants in the Department of Education. Some mandatory programs (e.g., Medicaid) are also exempt from the sequester.
In 2013, the sequester will mean an automatic 8.4 percent cut to program funding levels in 2013 for most NDD programs. These cuts will truly be across-the-board, with no departmental or agency control on how the sequester impacts individual programs.
Of course there is! There is already a vocal constituency clamoring to exempt defense programs from the sequester’s reach. Of course, removal of only defense programs from the sequester would place additional burden on NDD programs. Leaders of national coalitions and networks who joined together in crafting this letter believe it is critical for Congress to reverse course and work to achieve deficit reduction with a balanced approach that does not include further cuts to NDD programs.
Your organization can sign onto this letter, urging Congress to, “find a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to NDD programs.”
Your organization can also help by sharing this letter with your networks, state and affiliate chapters. All national, state and local organizations are encouraged to sign! The more sign-ons we have, the bigger our impact!