In a vote earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed a budget bill, 218-199, that provides a look at how, and if, Congressional Republicans would fund early education programs.
The House bill would cancel some of the scheduled cuts (known as “sequesters”) triggered by last summer’s debt ceiling agreement after the congressional supercommittee failed to adopt a deficit-cutting plan last fall. The House bill would still allow the sequestration process to proceed, however, for all non-defense programs that are not subject to the appropriations process.
To replace some of the scheduled cuts, the House bill would reduce spending on a number of programs that are not funded through the annual appropriations process and it would further limit the yet-to-be-enacted total appropriations funding for fiscal year 2013. If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed into law (which is seen as unlikely), some of the reductions would hit child care programs, reduce food-stamp assistance and mean that PreK-12 and higher education programs would be competing for dollars from a reduced pool of funds.
A quick recap: When legislators agreed to raise the federal debt ceiling with the Budget Control Act of 2011, they set annual appropriations caps that limit Congress’s spending over the next 10 years, and they established the so-called supercommittee to draft a bipartisan bill that would reduce future budget deficits. To push both Republicans and Democrats to come to agreement, Congress set up a Plan B that would kick in if the supercommittee failed. Plan B was designed to disproportionately cut and limit appropriations for defense programs compared to non-defense programs. When the supercommittee failed, Plan B took effect. Plan B has two parts: the appropriations limits are lowered further– fiscal year 2013 appropriations will be reduced by $55 billion from defense and $39 billion from non-defense programs in January 2013; and all non-appropriations (i.e. mandatory) funding will be reduced over the next 10 years by formula.
It should be noted that some programs, including Pell Grants and certain child welfare and nutrition programs, are exempt from the sequesters that are part of the debt ceiling’s Plan B. Even so, the appropriations limits apply to all programs funded through appropriations, like Head Start and Title I funding. In other words, an exemption from the sequesters is not an exemption from the lowered spending caps.
This isn’t the first time sequesters have been created, but historically Congress has been quick to ignore them by including legislative language to “turn off,” or cancel, the sequesters. The president originally promised to veto any such language (though his own budget proposal cancelled the sequesters entirely).
Back to the House Republicans’ plan adopted in that chamber last week: While the bill is complicated, the motive is not. The bill would allow Congress to fund defense programs at the level they would reach had the supercommittee not failed. It makes up for the restoration of defense funding with cuts to mandatory programs (i.e. those that are not funded with annual appropriations) and by maintaining an even lower cap on fiscal year 2013 appropriations funding. The lower cap means early childhood and education programs will have to compete for funding within a smaller pie for fiscal year 2013 appropriations and beyond.
In a surprising move, the House bill’s cuts to programs funded on the mandatory side of the budget spare some large education programs slated for spending reductions in the House-passed budget resolution (aka the Ryan budget), perhaps because House leaders didn’t want to further publicize the cuts they called for in the Ryan budget. These include the Pell Grant program and student loans.
Nevertheless, the bill included spending cuts to social welfare programs funded on the mandatory side of the budget that could significantly affect low-income families and children. It is these cuts that the House Republicans would use to “pay for” restoring defense spending to pre-sequester levels.
For example, if the House bill were enacted, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits would be reduced by cutting off benefits provided under the 2009 economic stimulus bill this June, rather than in October 2013 when they are currently scheduled to expire. The bill also includes eligibility changes to the direct certification of SNAP beneficiaries in the free and reduced price school lunch program, which would leave some students without access to free lunches.
The Social Services Block Grant program, a $1.7 billion program that divides money across the states for use in child care and child welfare benefits, among other things, would be eliminated entirely. And a new requirement that taxpayers claiming the Child Tax Credit use a Social Security Number, rather than an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, would eliminate the benefit for many immigrant families. The bill would also alter and reduce Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) benefits.
The House bill stands little chance of being taken up in the Senate – in fact, we’re not expecting much legislative progress on any front ahead of the November elections. (A lame duck session after the election may take action on the eve of the expiration of President Bush’s tax cuts.) But the House-passed bill does give a sense of House Republicans’ priorities moving forward and suggests both parties are banking on a changed political environment after the elections to negotiate the best deal possible. Whether those efforts will include broader deficit reductions – and funding cuts for early childhood programs – remains to be seen.
For more on the House vote, check out this post from our sister blog, Ed Money Watch. And follow the fiscal year 2013 appropriations process’s impact on early education programs here.