Policy Resource

Does Congress Have a New Year’s Resolution for Babies?

Jan 21, 2012

Funding decisions will once again need to be made for the many programs important to infants and toddlers that are funded through the annual appropriations process (discretionary programs).

Happy New Year from the Baby Policy Blog! As you may remember, last year ended with Congress completing the Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations process, resulting in an increase for Head Start/Early Head Start, CCDBG, and other programs vital to the healthy development of infants and toddlers. As calendar year 2012 (and the second session of the 112th Congress) begins, we are looking ahead to… you guessed it – babies and the budget! Congress will soon be back in session, with the House returning on January 17th, and the Senate a week later. 2012 will see Members spending a great deal of time back in their districts, as the election year begins to affect the Congressional agenda.

Funding decisions will once again need to be made for the many programs important to infants and toddlers that are funded through the annual appropriations process (discretionary programs). The President’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013 (October 1, 2012 – September 30, 2013), scheduled to be released the first Monday in February under the terms of the Congressional Budget Act, outlines the administration’s recommended funding levels for individual programs. This is the first step to kick off a long process to establish line item appropriation levels for every program, project, and activity of the federal government.

What is unique this year, unlike previous years, is the effect of the 2011 agreement on the Budget Control Act – reducing annual appropriations by nearly $1 trillion over ten years relative to the current level of spending. Aggregate appropriations levels have already been determined for domestic as well as defense and international affairs programs, but Congress must still determine the details within these areas of appropriations through the enactment of 12 annual appropriations measures.

In the months following the submission of the President’s budget, the House and Senate craft their own versions of a budget blueprint (“budget resolution”) to guide decisions on spending and revenues for the year ahead. This concurrent resolution does not require the President’s approval. Upon adoption of the budget resolution, or May 15 (whichever comes first), the House and Senate Appropriations Committees begin to draft spending bills for the fiscal year beginning on October 1 (Fiscal Year 2013 in this year’s case). The goal is for Congress to complete its work on all appropriations bills and other decisions affecting spending and revenues before the start of the fiscal year. Even with these processes and targets, the Congressional schedule is never certain. What is certain is that Congress will be in recess several times during the year and for a significant period in August through Labor Day so that the party nominating conventions can be held in anticipation of the fall elections. For a refresher on the details of the budget process, read Babies & The Budget: Opportunities for Action and revisit our budget videos.

An important piece of legislation that we will continue to follow in the new year is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has taken up and approved a bipartisan bill, the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011. One key provision for the first time includes infants and toddlers in a program that recognizes the importance of the early years in language and literacy development [these provisions are based on the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) Act, S. 929]. The measure also authorizes Race to the Top (an initiative of the Obama Administration) with an early learning component, the “Early Learning Challenge.” The likelihood of the full Senate taking up the bill in this election year is unclear. The House is using a more piecemeal approach to ESEA, but the arrival of a bipartisan bill there is unlikely.

Another program that may be revisited is the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). Senator Barbara Mikulski, Chair of the Subcommittee On Children And Families, has held two hearings exploring child care issues, specifically issues surrounding child care quality and safety.

So, how do we get ready? Decisions about spending are never easy, and the tough budget battles of recent years are certain to continue. Spending decisions set our national priorities. We need to continue to advocate for decisions that serve our society’s interest. We can build for the future through funding and policy choices that support programs to ensure the positive early development of our most vulnerable infants and toddlers and their families.

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