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Congressional Update: Impacts of The Super Committee

What Does Failure of the Congressional Super Committee Mean for Programs Impacting Children and Adults Living with Mental Illness?

Prior to the 2011 Thanksgiving holiday, the Joint House-Senate Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the Super Committee, announced that they had failed to reach an agreement on $1.2 trillion in net deficit reduction over the coming decade. In the wake of this failure, lawmakers returned to Washington to mull next steps. Most of these efforts have centered on minimizing the impact of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that were triggered when the Super Committee could not produce a plan. These cuts will go into effect in 2013 and will fall equally on defense and non-defense spending. Many important social safety net programs of importance to NAMI – most critically, Medicaid and SSI – are exempted from the cuts.

Reports indicate that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is working to build support for a new proposal. This proposal would reduce the impact of the automatic defense cuts by pairing their implementation with a variety of measures that are widely considered to be “must-pass” legislation. Cantor’s plan would include $133 billion in spending cuts, a 1-year delay in the defense sequestration, a 1-year extension of unemployment benefits, a payroll tax break, and a “fix” for the scheduled reduction in Medicare physician payment rates. However, President Obama has threatened to veto any legislation that modifies the automatic cuts and it is far from clear whether a majority of legislators would support such a bill.

Meanwhile, discussions continue among other legislators about how to reduce the deficit in the aftermath of the Super Committee’s failure. A bipartisan, bicameral group fashioning itself as the “Go Big Coalition” is holding meetings behind closed doors to discuss a $4-6 trillion deficit reduction plan. In addition, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has suggested that he may try to replace some of the automatic defense cuts with a deficit reduction plan to be included in his outline for the 2013 budget. With fiscal year 2012 already two months old, congress and the White House have begun working on their budget proposals for FY 2013. Such a move could be largely symbolic, as election-year politics make it unlikely the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House will reach an agreement on the same budget resolution. It is not uncommon for the two chambers to work from separate budget resolutions, smoothing out differences during their later-stage negotiations.

Pressure Grows for Congress to Complete Action on 2012 Spending Bills

Congress is set to end its work for the year later this month, putting pressure on legislators to finish up the 2012 appropriations process before heading home for the holidays. However, with nine of the twelve annual appropriations bills yet to be completed, congressional leaders are struggling to reconcile their differences on the details of the bills.

The continuing resolution that is currently funding the government will expire on Dec. 16, 2011. Some lawmakers have proposed enacting another continuing resolution (CR) that would maintain funding at 2011 levels through the end of the 2012 fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, 2012. Others have suggested a shorter-term CR that would take the government into the new year, when action on the spending bills could then be completed. There appears to be a widespread desire in congress to avoid a situation similar to that in 2011, when a political impasse over spending levels led to a series of very short term CRs and ongoing threats of a government shutdown that lasted well into April.

Nonetheless, passing a year-end omnibus budget bill will be tough. Some of the most fiscally conservative members of Congress have threatened to vote against the bill if legislators do not include steeper cuts than those outlined in the Budget Control Act, meaning that at least some Democratic support will be needed to pass the bill through the House. However, if the bill includes too many cuts to domestic spending, House leaders may have a hard time winning Democratic votes.

For priority programs funding mental illness research and services, a full-year CR for FY 2012 (that is, continuing current FY 2011 levels through Sept. 20, 2012) would have mixed results. For NIMH, a full-year CR would mean the loss of $40 million in increased funding that was included in the House bill, identical to the increase proposed by the President for FY 2012, boosting the NIMH budget to $1.571 billion. A full-year CR for FY 2012 would leave NIMH at $1.477 billion.

By contrast, at the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) at SAMHSA, a full-year CR would restore a substantial $166 million reduction that was included in the draft House funding bill.

Read further details on the FY 2012 discretionary funding bills.

Posted: Dec. 1, 2011


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