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Talks Continue as Congress Attempts to Raise Budget Caps

As previously reported, fiscal year (FY) 2020 discretionary spending is subject to austere caps that were put in place in 2011 as part of a larger effort to significantly reduce the size of the federal budget over 10 years. The Budget Control Act of 2011, or BCA, put in place caps on discretionary spending for both nondefense and defense spending for the period of 2013 through 2021. COSSA joined a letter with over 800 organizational signatures urging Congress to raise these spending caps.

Congressional leaders are now considering several solutions to raise the discretionary spending caps and are currently taking part in high-level negotiations. Proposals include a possible comprehensive multi-year budget resolution, a less-restrictive “deeming resolution,” or legislation that would undo the budget cap requirements altogether. This most notable legislation, H.R. 2021, the Investing for the People Act of 2019, was introduced by Representative John Yarmuth (D-KY), Chair of the House Budget Committee, and would increase discretionary spending limits for the next two fiscal years. COSSA has also joined NDD United to support the passage of H.R. 2021.

COSSA has also released an Action Alert for COSSA Members to communicate directly with their Members of Congress on the importance of raising the caps on non-defense discretionary spending.

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Posted in Issue 8 (April 16), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

Release of President’s Budget Puts Pressure on Congress to Raise Caps; COSSA Urges Advocates to Take Action

The release of the President’s budget request signals the official kick-off of the annual appropriations process in Congress. However, before Congress can fully dive into the FY 2020 bills, lawmakers must address a larger threat facing federal funding for next year. As COSSA has been reporting, discretionary spending that is appropriated every year by Congress has been subject to austere caps that were put in place in 2011 as part of a larger effort to significantly reduce the size of the federal budget over 10 years. The Budget Control Act of 2011, or BCA, put in place caps on discretionary spending for both nondefense and defense spending for the period of 2013 through 2021.

Thankfully, since 2013, Congress has been able to find bipartisan ways to amend the BCA and provide relief to the caps, allowing federal R&D agencies (as well as other parts of the federal budget) to achieve funding increases above the caps each year. However, the latest relief measures only raised the caps for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, meaning that unless Congress acts to address the caps again for FY 2020, they will take effect once again, resulting in a cut of $54 billion (9 percent) from nondefense discretionary (NDD) spending (which includes most research accounts), and $71 billion (11 percent) from defense discretionary accounts. In future years, under the President’s proposal, NDD funding would be reduced by an additional 2 percent each year through 2029, while shifting funding to “resource national defense requirements.” Interestingly, the President’s request itself violates the BCA by proposing to bust the defense discretionary caps by $165 billion (using the controversial Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to further pad defense budgets). Therefore, regardless of where you stand, a deal will need to be struck in some form in the coming months if either side—defense or nondefense—are to see desired increases.

Lawmakers have already started talks and will be working for the next several months to attempt to strike a deal to prevent these cuts from taking effect in FY 2020. Of course, given the hyper-partisan and contentious nature of today’s Washington, a bipartisan deal is not guaranteed. You can expect to see the funding debate heat up in the coming weeks and perhaps also stretch into the fall or beyond.

COSSA has issued an action alert urging members to write to their Members of Congress to tell them to prioritize a budget deal that gives fair treatment to vital non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs—including science and research agencies—which have disproportionately borne the brunt of federal spending cuts over the past several years.

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Posted in Issue 7 (April 2), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

GOP Tax Plan Could Hurt Students, NDD Programs

Several provisions contained in the tax plans rolled out by Republican leadership this month have raised concerns for stakeholder groups that do not normally weigh in on tax policy. The House’s plan, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) was approved by the Ways and Means Committee on November 9 and is expected to be debated on the House floor later this week. The Senate Finance Committee began its markup of  the Senate plan on Monday and will continue its consideration of the bill today. There are significant differences between the two plans that would need to be worked out during the conference process, and the Senate plan will likely require additional changes in order to gain the support of 51 Republicans. However, Congressional Republicans are facing substantial political pressure to pass a tax plan, and GOP leadership has publicly stated that it hopes to have a plan passed by the end of the year.

Higher education groups have flagged a number of provisions in both proposals that could make undergraduate and graduate education harder to afford and affect colleges and universities’ ability to offer assistance to their students.  Of particular concern is a proposal in the House plan to tax graduate tuition waivers as income—meaning that some graduate students’ taxes could increase by 100 percent or more while they earn the same (generally limited) income.  The House bill would also eliminate the student loan interest deduction as well as several other tax credits for students. While these changes are absent from the Senate bill, the two proposals share other provisions that could affect colleges and universities’ bottom lines, including reducing incentives for charitable giving, an excise tax on endowment earnings at private college and universities, and repealing or reducing the state and local tax deduction, potentially affecting state funding of higher education.

In addition to the impacts on students and higher education institutions, the budget proposals add an estimated $1.5 trillion over ten years to the federal deficit, likely leading to significant cuts to non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs down the road, which include research funding. Given that these programs have already seen disproportionate cuts to their budgets in recent years, this is a cause for concern among groups focused on science and research, as well as on other social issues.

COSSA has not issued its own action alert on the tax plan, however we have compiled the following list of resources and information on how to take action prepared by partner organizations:

American Association for the Advancement of Science

American Council on Education

Association of American Medical Colleges and Universities

Association of American Universities

Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities

Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

Coalition on Human Needs

Council of Graduate Schools

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

National Humanities Alliance

NDD United

Other Resources

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 14), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

NDD United Highlights Impacts of Budget Cuts in Faces of Austerity 2.0 Report

On October 25, NDD United, a broad coalition of stakeholders interested in protecting non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs from budget cuts (including COSSA), held a congressional briefing to celebrate the launch of its latest report, Faces of Austerity 2.0: How Budget Cuts Continue to Make Us Sicker, Poorer, and Less Secure. The report explores how sequestration and the Budget Control Act put programs that millions of Americans rely on at risk. NDD United is calling upon Congress to stop NDD funding cuts by treating defense and nondefense programs equally, maintaining the precedent set in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. NDD United aims to demonstrate that these budget cuts are not just numbers on paper, but represent real and increasingly difficult challenges for many Americans.

At the congressional briefing, NDD United invited a panel of five speakers to share their personal experiences with cuts to NDD programs. Melissa Armas, a mother and volunteer with Parent Voices CA, shared her story first. This past year, Melissa accepted a bonus from her employer, and because of it, she was $100 over the low-income threshold to receive a government subsidy that would allow her four-year-old daughter to attend daycare. Michael Gritton, Executive Director of KentuckianaWorks, an organization that educates, trains, and connects local job seekers with employers, shared that his organization has had to close two training centers and cut training programs by 40 percent because of NDD budget cuts. Joseph Hill-Coles, Community Navigator at Youth Services, Inc. used his personal experience as a homeless eighteen-year-old to amplify the need to fund “age and culturally appropriate” programs for homeless teens. Jim Northup, former Superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, spoke about the necessity of a sustained annual national budget that allows agencies and programs to plan their yearly spending effectively. The final speaker, Ashley Webb, Prevention Program Manager for the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health, explained how reliant state and local programs and organizations are on federal funding, especially in a state like Illinois where state funding is often unreliable. She echoed the voices of the other speakers when affirming that these programs should be able to spend “less time fundraising and more time working.”

This article was contributed by COSSA’s fall intern, Erin Buechele of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Advocates Call for Budget Deal as End of Fiscal Year Nears

One week out from the start of fiscal year (FY) 2016 and Congress has yet to decide on a path forward for funding the government that will not result in a government shutdown come October 1. A continuing resolution (CR) must be enacted in the next week to allow Congress the time it needs to complete the 12 outstanding FY 2016 appropriations bills.

Language of a short term CR could surface in the Senate as early as today. Even still, with the arrival of Pope Francis in the nation’s capital this week and a short Congressional break to observe Yom Kippur, only a handful of days separate Congress from a shutdown. Work is almost certain to continue into the weekend. And there are no guarantees that a “clean” CR floated by the Senate could pass the House, which has members still clamoring for action to defund Planned Parenthood.

Getting to October 1 is just the start; Congress must still complete the FY 2016 appropriations process in some way. But first, lawmakers on both sides are calling for broader budget negotiations to reverse sequestration. Until that happens, the FY 2016 funding bills remain in limbo. One possible outcome is that Congress will be unable to broker a broad deal and we will end up with a yearlong CR that funds the government at FY 2015 levels, thereby locking in sequestration (the tight budget caps currently in effect) for yet another year.

On September 10, COSSA joined 2,500 national, state, and local organizations on a letter to Congress urging relief from sequestration in FY 2016 by taking a balanced approach to deficit reduction. In particular, the letter notes the cuts that have already been taken to nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs, which include research funding.

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Posted in Issue 17 (September 22), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

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