Policy Resource

Important Budget Decisions in the Week Ahead

Mar 18, 2013

This week Congress will attempt to finalize funding for the current fiscal year while also moving forward on next year’s budget plan.

Thoughts of rolling back the sequester linger only in the Senate FY 2014 budget proposal. For now, these across-the-board cuts will be a fact of life for programs serving children and families. As the House and the Senate each prepare to consider a budget blueprint, a question hangs in the balance: Will the shrinking federal responsiveness to vulnerable families’ needs symbolized by the sequester become ingrained in federal budgetary policy?

Finalizing FY 2013 Funds: Congress is hoping to complete work on a measure to fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends on September 30. The House endorsed a straight continuation of last year’s funding level for most programs. The Senate is working on a bill that would incorporate appropriations bills for a number of departments, but not the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. An amendment by Senator Harkin to include that bill, which would have boosted funding for several early childhood programs, failed on a party-line vote last week. The Senate bill does include small increases for Head Start and child care, but not enough to offset the cuts in the sequester looming at the end of the process. The actual amount of these across-the-board cuts cannot be determined until the final funding levels are set.

House FY 2014 Budget: The House is planning to consider the budget plan put forth last week by Chairman Paul Ryan (WI) and his Budget Committee Members. Like last year’s plan, this budget would implement a philosophy of government marked by sharply cutting social programs for children and families and distancing the federal government from decisions affecting those services. The proposal would balance the budget in 10 years through $5.7 trillion in spending cuts without resorting to revenue increases. Two-thirds of those cuts would come from low-income programs, including $2.6 trillion from Medicaid through program cuts and eliminating the expansion included in the Affordable Care Act. The budget leaves many cuts unspecified, masking the likely devastating effect on programs for children and families. Given the make-up of the federal funding pie, however, large deficit-reducing cuts will have a significant impact on these programs and the people they serve. In addition, key programs would be formed into block grants, limiting federal ability to ensure needs are met across states. The plan envisions an overhaul of the tax system, dramatically lowering and streamlining tax rates for higher income levels. Spending cuts and elimination of unspecified tax loopholes would pay for the resulting revenue reduction.

Senate FY 2014 Budget: Last week, Senator Patty Murray (WA) unveiled her first budget as the new Chair of the Senate Budget Committee. It presents a marked contrast to the House budget plan. It would replace the sequester and achieve deficit reduction of $1.8 trillion over 10 years through an approach that balances spending cuts and increased revenues. The budget would seek to spur job growth through a package of infrastructure and job creation investments. Most important for infants and toddlers, it also envisions an expansion of early care and learning programs, reserving room in the budget for mandatory funding for prekindergarten programs, child care expansion, and home visiting, as well as increases in discretionary spending on Head Start/Early Head Start.

Standard procedure calls for the two Houses to reach agreement on one budget blueprint, but such an agreement seems unlikely. The stark contrast between these budgets illustrates the gulf between the two parties in Congress. Still, it is critical that Members of Congress hear from those concerned with support for early childhood programs about the importance of early investment. Too large a part of the budget debate has become something of a “green eyeshade” exercise, with Members rarely reminded of the relevance and importance of national policy that recognizes the needs of particularly at-risk children and families. Yet, the respective visions of these two budget plans would have very different effects on the development of young children and families and our nation’s ability to be competitive in the future.

The federal government has always been a potent voice in how we as a society not only respond to the needs of our more vulnerable members, but lay the foundations that keep our country strong. This voice is particularly clear in programs such as Head Start/Early Head Start, Medicaid, and nutrition programs that support positive early development for the youngest children. It is important for infant-toddler advocates to reinforce the message that federal policy should not shrug off the responsibility for preparing young children for the future, but should make the investment to ensure they can reach their potential. Watch for action alerts this week as the House and the Senate adopt their plans. Our voices CAN help make the difference for progress AND compromise.

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