Super committee fails to meet deadline
The Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the so-called “super committee,” failed to devise a plan to reduce the federal government’s debt level by its Nov. 23 deadline. As a result, a “sequestration” process automatically kicked in that mandates $1.2 trillion in cuts to the federal budget by 2013. Half of the cuts must come from the Department of Defense, and half must come from the government’s non-defense discretionary spending fund.
The super committee was created as a result of the debt ceiling agreement Congress reached in August after partisan deadlock over how to address the nation’s growing debt. The agreement required an initial reduction in federal spending of $917 billion over 10 years, according to the Washington-based National Association of Counties (NACo). The super committee was supposed to identify additional future spending cuts of $1.2 to $1.5 trillion, for a total of around $2.4 trillion.
Congress still could find a deal that could replace the sequestration cuts, and if they do, NACo Legislative Director Edwin Rosado hopes they do not rely strictly on cuts to domestic, non-military discretionary programs. “Of particular concern to counties is the potential shifting of costs to state and local governments,” Rosado said in a statement.
One benefit of the sequestration cuts, NACo Executive Director Larry Naake said in October, is that programs that benefit the poor, such as Medicaid, are exempt from the cuts, meaning the costs of those programs will not be shifted to state and local governments. In 16 states, counties shoulder some of the cost of Medicaid, and they share in the administration of the program in many other states, Naake said.
However, the sequestration cuts still will have a heavy impact, said Jeff Hurley, policy analyst for the Washington-based National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). “What [the exemptions to the sequestration cuts] mean for states is that the cuts [that] are going to come for state/federal programs are going to be targeted in areas such as education, public safety and energy,” Hurley said in an interview on NCSL’s website. “So, these areas are going to get hit that much harder.”
But, perhaps the hardest part of the sequestration process will be the uncertainty. “As states try to determine their budgets for fiscal year 2013, they still aren’t aware of what funding is going to come their way from the federal government,” Hurley said. “States have to think long term, and [about] when these reductions come to the state level, what they need to do to continue to provide services to their constituents.”