No Laughing Matter: Painful Budget Cuts Planned

On Friday, September 14, 2012, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a highly anticipated report on the likely effects of sequestration (the automatic across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion passed as part of the Budget Control Act in 2011 that are slated to take effect beginning January 2013). The report confirmed what everyone already knew—sequestration would bring massive budget cuts that would devastate federal programs.

Sequestration would reduce funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $2.5 billion in FY 2013, or 8.2 percent, eliminating up to 2300 NIH research grants. NIH “would have to halt or curtail scientific research, including needed research into cancer and childhood diseases,” the White House said.

Moreover, Medicare would face a 2 percent cut of $11 billion, costing up to 766,000 jobs. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which has much of the federal responsibility for implementing the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, would take a $63 million hit to its program management budget. The prevention fund that the 2010 health care law created would be sliced by 7.6 percent, or $76 million. Grants to states to create health insurance exchanges would be cut by $66 million.

The OMB report said that “on the nondefense side, sequestration would undermine investments vital to economic growth, threaten the safety and security of the American people, and cause severe harm to programs that benefit the middle class, seniors, and children.” Nondefense discretionary (NDD) spending funds essential government programs such as medical research, education, public safety, and infrastructure.

The goal of the NDD community is to speak with one voice in educating policymakers and the public about what NDD programs are as well as what the nation will stand to lose as a result of sequestration, and to encourage Congress to take a balanced approach of cuts and new revenue as it works toward a budget deal to replace sequestration.

“We can’t just cut our way out of debt. Eliminating all NDD programs will not balance the budget and is not the answer,” ASN Research Advocacy Committee Chair John R. Sedor, MD, said. “ASN knows medical research generates jobs, stimulates the economy, and enables life-saving medical advancements. That is why the society has joined more than 3000 national, state, and local organizations, including other medical specialty societies and research organizations, to raise awareness of and build support for federal NDD programs.”

ASN has been collaborating with the NDD community in a number of ways. In July 2012, ASN joined the “Rally to Restore Balance and Protect America’s Families” on Capitol Hill for the formal launch of the NDD campaign with Sen. Tom Harkin, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro, (D-CT) Rep. George Miller (D-CA), and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton.

ASN joined the NDD community in calling upon Congress for a balanced approach to deficit reduction in July, and participated in an NDD community–wide national action day in September. ASN members were asked to Tweet or call their congressional representatives. Throughout the fall ASN will join the NDD community for congressional briefings and various meetings on Capitol Hill.

In addition to these NDD activities, the society offers a toolkit at www.asn-online.org to help ASN members meet with their congressional representatives in their home offices in November and December, including talking points and fact sheets.

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Currently, there is no serious plan in Congress to repeal or replace sequestration. Instead, Congress has tacitly agreed to table this issue until after the November election, which is why ASN members are being asked to meet with their representatives in Congress during the lame-duck session. What Congress decides to do is anyone’s guess at this time. What happens largely depends on the outcome of the election and the balance of power in Washington. The hope, however, is that the combined efforts of the entire NDD community will generate enough support for replacing sequestration with a more balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes new revenues.