Fall 2012 Congressional Spotlight

As the clock winds down to the start of Fiscal Year 2013 on October 1, 2012, congressional leaders have reached an agreement to keep the government funded for an additional 6 months. The deal would avoid a last minute showdown over the budget and a possible government shutdown before the November election. Congress is expected to pass the continuing resolution this month, which would provide government funding through March 2013 at the levels Congress agreed to when it passed the 2011 Budget Control Act. However, Congress will still have its hands full with other contentious business this fall.

Topping the list—sequestration, which is Washington-speak for automatic across-the-board cuts totaling $1.2 trillion. Part of the Budget Control Act passed in the summer of 2011, these cuts are slated to take effect beginning January 2013. Unless Congress repeals or replaces sequestration with another deficit reduction plan, these cuts will apply to all defense and “nondefense discretionary” programs.

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Nondefense discretionary funding supports medical and scientific research, as well as education and job training, infrastructure, public safety and law enforcement, public health, weather monitoring and environmental protection, natural and cultural resources, housing and social services, and international relations. If sequestration takes effect, funding for these core functions of government would be chopped by a whopping 8 percent or more.

ASN is conducting a concentrated effort this fall to prevent these potentially devastating cuts. The society has teamed up with more than 3000 organizations in the nondefense discretionary community to call for a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Stay tuned for more information about ASN’s fall legislative agenda.

Beyond sequestration, Congress will also have to decide what it wants to do about raising the U.S. debt ceiling (the total amount of money the government is allowed to borrow), which the United States is expected to hit by early 2013 for the third time since 2011.

Moreover, Congress will tackle how to prevent a 30 percent cut to Medicare physician payments under the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula from taking effect in January 2013. ASN is very concerned about the impact these cuts will have on physicians and the highly vulnerable population of patients with kidney disease. The society is collaborating with others in the health care community to advocate for a permanent replacement of the SGR and recently sent a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee with suggestions for addressing this issue.

When it comes to promoting the highest quality care for patients, ASN is on the front lines to ensure Congress hears the voices of our members—not just on sequestration and the SGR but on a number of important policy priorities. To learn more, visit ASN’s recently redesigned “Public Policy” website at http://www.asn-online.org/policy_and_public_affairs/.

September 2012 (Vol. 4, Number 9)