Weathering the Funding Storms
February 15, 2013
This week has seen a flurry of work on funding issues. Last night Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) introduced a plan -- - American Family Economic Protection Act to avoid the sequester entirely for the rest of Fiscal Year 2013 and the first 3 months of Fiscal Year 2014. The package costs $110 billion and is equally divided between revenue and spending cuts, with the spending cuts of $55 billion equally divided between Defense and Non-Defense Discretionary (NDD) programs. All of the $27.5 billion in cuts (over 10 years) in NDD would come from Agriculture savings from farm subsidies that are paid regardless of the crop yield, prices or farm income, according to a summary of the package released by Majority Leader Reid's office. Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski stated the Defense cuts are also $25.5 billion or 0.5% of defense spending and would not begin until Fiscal Year 2015 after the troops return from Afghanistan.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said the plan with revenue included is not workable on his side of the aisle. He will be putting out an alternative plan. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is open to working with Majority Leader Reid on an alternative to the sequester. However, he wants the Senate to pass the legislation prior to the House taking it up, since he does not want his Caucus to take a difficult vote if the legislation is not truly moving. The speaker did note that a potential difficulty with having the Senate pass a bill first is that according to the Constitution bills raising revenue must originate in the House.
The revenue in the package includes three main points -- - Closing an oil tax loophole on tar sands, ending the tax break for companies that send jobs overseas, and ensuring that those with adjusted gross incomes over $1 million pay at least 30% tax on incomes excluding charitable contributions. These tax changes will generate $55 billion in new revenue.
In related news, on February 14th the new Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Barbara Mikulski held a hearing on the impact of sequestration on agencies throughout the federal government. A particular goal was to highlight the impact on the non-defense discretionary agencies. Although Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius did not testify, she sent a letter to the committee via e-mail. The letter highlights HIV/AIDS issues, stating:
"Sequestration would impair the Department's ability to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. The cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) translate into approximately 424,000 fewer HIV tests conducted by CDC's health department grantees. The Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that 7,400 fewer patients would have access to life-saving HIV medications through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). This would cause delays in service and drug provision to people living with HIV and potentially lead to ADAP wait lists for HIV medications."
Additionally, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Arne Duncan highlighted cuts that could also impact people living with HIV. In particular he noted that as many as 7,300 households would lose assistance under the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) Program. He also noted the potential loss of 125,000 housing choice vouchers. HIV advocates pointed out that these cuts also might affect people living with HIV since approximately half of the holders of vouchers under this program are disabled or elderly and that 100,000 homeless or formerly homeless would lose support and risk return to homelessness.
In the House, Appropriations Chair Representative Harold Rogers (R-KY) announced a plan to introduce legislation to pass a 6 month CR that would use sequester limits on FY 13 spending, requiring a decrease from $1.043 trillion to $974 billion. The bill would remove some limits on the Defense Department and Military Construction budgets to allow for multi-year contracting. So far there has been little indication of a breakthrough to help avoid extreme cuts in the second half of the year.
Finally, on Tuesday, February 12 and Wednesday, February 13, the Senate Budget Committee held its first two hearings of the 113th Congress. As part of Chairman Patty Murray's (D-WA) continued efforts to make sure the values and priorities of families across the country are heard in the budget process, members of the public appeared as witnesses before the committee to talk about the impact of budget decisions made in Washington, D.C. on their families and communities. The testimonies of the witnesses were compelling and emphasized the importance of maintaining federal funds for safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program. Mrs. Tara Marks, a witness at the hearing, stated the following in her testimony:
"In conclusion, I am very thankful that SNAP was there for us. I urge the Committee and the Congress -- - to take stories like mine into account as you put together your budget. I ask that Congress continue to invest in life-saving programs so that families like mine -- all across the country -- can get the support they need to get back on their feet, back on track, and back into a job. They were there for me when I needed it most, and they shouldn't be cut now when so many others are struggling in this tough economy."
Many people living with HIV/AIDS are in similar situations and rely on these programs. Unfortunately, Mrs. Marks' struggle is not unique; it is a story that many Americans share. We cannot allow Congress to make cuts to programs that save the lives of Americans without also increasing methods of revenue.
This article was provided by AIDS United. It is a part of the publication AIDS United Policy Update. Visit AIDS United's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
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