Policy Priorities

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March 26, 2013

Last week, Congress took giant steps forward on the federal budget.

On Thursday night, the House of Representatives took the critical step to avert a government shutdown by passing a “continuing resolution” (CR) that will keep the government funded through the end of this fiscal year (FY 2013). The $984 billion spending bill passed by a vote of 318 to 109 and reflects a carefully negotiated compromise between the House and Senate. The Senate had already approved the measure, and this week the President signed it into law. While the CR left the across the board spending cuts (the “sequester”) largely intact, the Child Care and Development Block Grant and the nutrition assistance program for low-income pregnant women, infants and young children (WIC) received small bumps in funding, slightly lessening the impact of the cuts.

Passage of the CR for this year was swiftly followed by the Senate’s passage of a Budget for FY 2014, its first in four years, at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning. The Senate budget resolution, authored by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), outlines priorities for the coming fiscal year and includes both tax and spending targets. The Murray budget eliminates the blunt across the board cuts sequester cuts that went into effect March 1. The Murray budget reduces the deficit by $1.85 trillion over the next ten years through a balanced mix of $975 billion in additional spending cuts (on top of the $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction already achieved) and $975 billion in revenue increases through closing loopholes and cutting unfair spending by revising the tax code.

The balanced Senate budget is in stark contrast to the “Ryan Budget,” which was passed by the House of Representatives on March 21st. It would slash the deficit by $4.6 trillion on the backs of children, low-income families and the middle class over the next 10 years and included no tax increases. Authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), this budget cuts health care spending by $2.7 trillion over the next ten years by block granting Medicaid and repealing the Affordable Care Act. It also makes an additional $1 trillion in cuts (on top of the cuts already enacted) to other mandatory programs such as food stamps and student loans, and includes significant cuts to other programs, including education. The Ryan budget does all of this without asking the wealthiest Americans or corporations to pay their fair share; rather, it gives the wealthiest Americans a new tax cut while raising taxes on middle class families. Two thirds of the cuts in the Ryan budget come from programs serving low or moderate income Americans.

These two budget bills provide a good indicator of the competing Congressional visions and priorities for our country. They are so far apart it is unlikely that a conference committee will be able to resolve the differences, so both budgets are likely to remain largely visions. The next major budget action is the release of President Obama’s Budget, which is expected on April 10th. Stay tuned to Budget Watch for an analysis of how children would fare.

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