Policy Resource

Super Committee Deadline Approaches With No Increased Investment for Babies in Sight

Nov 21, 2011

As we approach Thanksgiving Day—and the deadline for the Super Committee to come up with its deficit reduction plan—it seems that our Thanksgiving turkeys are not the only things that are “done”.

Today is the day when the members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction need to have the finishing touches on their proposal so they can present it to their colleagues on Wednesday, November 23. That’s the statutory deadline for their plan—except that right now, they have no plan. They have not been able to agree on enough spending cuts to satisfy some members of the Committee or enough revenue increases to satisfy others. Committee members are now openly saying the Committee is done trying to reach agreement. As a technical matter, the Committee had to produce a package by today (11/21) so that it could be reviewed by Members and the public and scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Reports suggest that a Press Release on the Committee’s lack of success may come after the financial markets closed today.

Little is known about the nature and depth of the debate, because most Committee discussions were private—a tactic thought to make it easier for them to have more free ranging talks out of sight of television cameras. One thing is clear: nothing trickling out of the closed-door sessions suggests increased investment in children to boost long-term economic security was on the table. In fact, anything that happens as a result of the committee’s inaction will compound cuts already banked, which will continue to squeeze funding for children. This past August’s debt limit deal cut discretionary spending by more than $900 billion over the next ten years—with no relief in sight.

Assuming there is no eleventh hour deal, what happens next? Well, nothing immediately. The Budget Control Act enacted last summer provides for an alternative avenue to achieving the $1.2 trillion in required savings in the form of an automatic across-the-board cut, or sequester. Spending would have to be cut enough to save $109.3 billion a year. Half the cuts ($54.7 billion) would have to come from defense programs, and the rest from the domestic side of the budget. Some programs are exempted, including a few for low-income families such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Discretionary programs for low-income children and families are definitely not protected. Such programs as Head Start/Early Head Start, child care, early intervention, and Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) would be vulnerable to the cuts.

While a Super Committee failure would trigger these automatic cuts, they would not take effect until 2013. This distant effective date may explain the lack of panic here in Washington, but it doesn’t eliminate the need for concern and vigilance by advocates for young children. Rumbles have already been heard in Congress about the dire effects of the automatic defense cuts (which were supposed to provide greater incentive to the Super Committee to make a deal). It isn’t clear whether these concerns would lead to a greater reduction in domestic programs or some alternative approach.

Meanwhile, the most immediate funding concern for infant-toddler programs is spending for fiscal year 2012. These levels still haven’t been finalized, even though the fiscal year started seven weeks ago. Continuing resolutions are keeping the federal government running. The remaining spending bills are likely to be rolled up into an omnibus bill to get them across the finish line. Included in such a vehicle would be the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill, the always-contentious bill which funds many of the programs that help provide resources to infants, toddlers, and families. The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved its version of the Labor-HHS bill, but the House has yet to move. While there are strong indications that Head Start/Early Head Start could receive a funding boost, the outcome for other programs seems uncertain.

How should we think about all of this as we sit down to our Thanksgiving tables? We here at the Baby Policy Blog will give thanks for all of you out in the field who work every day to give our babies and toddlers a healthy, happy future. But we will also be aware that for too many children and families, the Thanksgiving feast is a meager one. So, we must all redouble our efforts to help policymakers understand that to increase our nation’s bounty in the future, all of our children and families must share in it today.

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