Supercommittee unable to reach consensus on spending cuts

After months of negotiations, public hearings and closed-door meetings the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction announced Monday that it was unable to reach an agreement to cut the federal deficit.

The committee co-chairs, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), said that, “after months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline.”

In August, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011, which raised the debt ceiling and called for the formation of the 12-member “supercommittee” charged with outlining a plan to cut spending by $1.2 trillion-1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

The supercommittee was required by law to present its recommendations to Congress by Nov. 23. Now that it’s clear no consensus could be reached, the failsafe mechanism, called sequestration, is enacted. Sequestration calls for $1.2 trillion across-the-board cuts to be made equally between defense and domestic spending over nine years, starting in 2013.

Sequestration may be particularly damaging to science-funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Research funding long has been an area of bipartisan support and probably would have fared better in a deal negotiated by the supercommittee than in the 7 percent-9 percent across-the-board cuts that will result from sequestration. Democrats on the House Appropriations committee estimated that NIH would have to fund 2,500-2,700 fewer grants and NSF would have fund 1,500 fewer grants than in 2011 with budget cuts of this size.

While the failure of the supercommittee to produce recommendations triggers sequestration, these cuts won’t go into effect until 2013. There are already reports of plans from members of Congress to draft legislation that would reverse the across-the-board cuts or to shelter certain agencies, such as defense, from the effects. However, President Obama has publically stated several times that he will veto any efforts to override the sequestration act. He has suggested that there is still enough time before sequestration begins for Congress to devise a debt-cutting plan that would meet the requirements of the Budget Control Act.

The exact results of the supercommittee’s failure to negotiate a debt deal are still widely unknown. However in the year ahead, the ASBMB Office of Public Affairs will monitor the development of any new debt-cutting proposals and continue to advocate for basic research in effort to keep science-funding agencies funded at the highest level.

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