Over the past few years, in observing the US budget debates and its potential impact on agricultural research, extension, and education funding, I have felt as though I was constantly saying that the “sky is falling” and then the “sky did not fall” as a last minute deal was struck to delay severe budget cuts. Here we go again although it is extremely likely that there will be major reductions in budgets this year. By 1 March 2013, if a consensus is not reached, the $85 billion sequester (i.e., across-the-board budget cuts) will kick-in and all agencies will have no choice but to implement plans to reduce the annual budget of all spending programs by 5 percent. Since 5 months of the year have elapsed already, the effective percentage reduction would be about 9 percent. From a personnel standpoint, this could result in furloughs of up to 15 days between 1 March and 30 September for most government employees.
Do agencies have flexibility for allocating the percentage reduction? No. There are a lot of proposals being bandied about that would give the Secretary of Defense and potentially other heads of departments some flexibility, but it is unlikely an agreement will be reached in time.
Will Congress pass one of the proposals to avert/delay the sequester? There will be a lot of votes this week but it is unlikely that any one of them will be adopted by both houses of Congress and signed by the President.
If the sequester is delayed by 1 March, what is the likely timing of the delay? Right now, the government is operating on a continuing resolution that provided funding through 27 March 2013 for all agencies at the fiscal year 2012 level. If the sequester is delayed this week, more than likely it will be delayed no longer than the 27th of March.
What will happen by 27 March 2013? Some of the proposals being discussed right now would enact another appropriations legislation that would continue funding for the rest of the current fiscal year (FY 2013), include budget cuts of $85-115 billion, raise additional revenue, and cancel the sequester. Other proposals would keep the sequester and continue funding at or below the level provided under the sequester.
If Congress passes the FY 2013 appropriations legislation by 27 March, is that all of the budget negotiations for the year? Unfortunately, that legislation will only wrap up the current fiscal year. Congress must also pass appropriations legislation for the fiscal year that begins on 1 October.
Is there anything that APS members can do? Absolutely! Please contact your members of congress and encourage them to support an approach to addressing our budget deficits that recognizes the importance of making essential investments for the future such as in agricultural science, extension, and education programs.