Sequestration: Getting the lay of the land

25 days until the sequester

The across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration are set to go into effect March 1. If you’re wondering where negotiations stand and why science funding is being targeted or if you need a refresher on sequestration, this blog piece is for you.

Originally established in the Budget Control Act of 2011, sequestration will cut $110 billion from the discretionary spending budget each year for the next 10 years. Nondefense discretionary spending, which includes the budgets of the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and other research funding agencies, will be cut by about five percent if sequestration is not averted. For the NIH, cutting five percent of its budget would be equivalent to eliminating the National Institute of Mental Health.

Unfortunately, no discussions have taken place recently on Capitol Hill to find ways to avert sequestration and save the defense discretionary and NDD budgets. Even House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that sequestration is likely to occur March 1. Many see the fiscal-cliff deal struck at the beginning of January causing both sides to dig in their heels. Democrats, seeing that Republicans voted for a tax hike in early January, are pressing for additional revenues in addition to spending cuts to avert the sequester. Republicans, feeling that the administration already has gotten its way with taxes, see no reason to include revenue in a sequester deal.

Discretionary spending is not the driver of our national debt, but these programs are often under threat of being cut. Why is this? Because discretionary spending, as a whole, is the easiest thing for Congress to agree on. Mandatory spending on entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, is staunchly defended by Democrats. Raising revenue by increasing tax rates is just as staunchly opposed by Republicans. Thus, the only other method to manipulate the federal budget is through modifications to discretionary spending.

Sequestration will have a devastating effect on researchers across the nation. However, ASBMB and the NDD Summit are working to convey how these drastic actions would negatively impact the science community. Keep up to date on how sequestration will play out by using the #NDDUnited hashtag on Twitter and by staying tuned to the Policy Blotter.

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