by Congresswoman Nita Lowey
The 2014 budget and appropriations process has been described as a “slow-motion train wreck,” but this is far too generous. For a collision to occur, locomotives must actually meet.
Having failed to avert automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration for 2013, Congress forced federal departments and agencies, states and grantees to do more with less, resulting in lost jobs, furloughs, diminished access to vital programs like Head Start and Meals on Wheels, and a failure to make investments we know are critical to the future.
The Ryan budget adopted by the House majority establishes an insufficient $967 billion top-line discretionary spending level and assumes continuation of sequestration in 2014 and beyond. Unfortunately, the legislative actions, transfers and reprogrammings, and deferrals of long-term priorities that mitigated the worst effects of sequestration in 2013 are no longer available.
House appropriations bills considered so far have made clear the consequences of the majority’s unwillingness to eliminate sequestration for 2014 — from steep cuts to Amtrak and renewable energy and efficiency investments, to the deprivation of 200,000 women and their babies of access to nutrition assistance, to the gutting of enforcement efforts for tax fraud and key consumer financial protections.
And the worst is yet to come. The House majority has yet to hold full committee mark-up sessions on the bills for which 2014 allocations were slashed most dramatically, down an average of 21 percent from last year’s enacted levels. The effects on medical research, schools, job training, clean air and water, and diplomacy and development will be devastating.
These drastic cuts disregard the fact that Congress has already achieved $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction since 2010, $1.5 trillion of which come from discretionary investments.
Despite the House majority’s supposed fealty to the 2014 sequestration spending level, it has exceeded by more than $47 billion the 2014 cap on defense spending of $498 billion. Without action by Congress, the administration would be forced to sequester the remainder, exacerbating already severe deficiencies in military readiness. Funding levels that look robust now would create a national security crisis overnight.
In stark contrast to these draconian and unnecessary cuts under Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski’s leadership, the Senate is considering appropriations bills drafted to conform with the top-line spending level to which Democrats and Republicans agreed in the Budget Control Act. At a top-line spending level of $1.058 trillion, appropriations bills are lean yet maintain the critical services and investments on which American families rely.
To keep the federal government from shutting down at the end of the fiscal year in September, the $91 billion gap in discretionary spending levels between the House and Senate bills must be bridged. There are no winners if Congress fails in its duty.
The House and Senate have each passed budget resolutions, yet the House majority refuses to engage in a conference to reconcile total 2014 discretionary spending levels and eliminate sequestration, whose effects on the economy and family security grow more — not less — severe. With or without a joint budget resolution, the work of the appropriations committees to fund the federal government will go on. But short of a common end point, we are on parallel tracks that only meet at the bottom of a gorge. each year.
It is time to demonstrate to the American people that Congress can work cooperatively and put their interests first. The first step is to stop governing by crisis.
With only 17 days of session in the House between now and the end of the fiscal year, the clock is ticking.
Congresswoman Nita Lowey represents Rockland County and New York’s 18th congressional district She is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. This column was originally published on Politico.com.