Hanging Over the Fiscal Cliff

Bob Reeg

Bob Reeg

The 113th Congress convened on January 3, 2013, with much of the nation’s business being carried over from the 112th Congress. Expect a similar robust debate on the big policy issues facing the country as took place in 2012, given that the composition of the 113th Congress has not altered substantially from its predecessor, and that firm ideological differences which polarize the American populace have not diminished.

The federal budget deficit and national debt will continue to be front and center in the new Congress, as they should be given the scope of the imbalance between federal spending and revenue collection. Despite spin from policymakers and the press that President Obama and the 112th Congress stopped the nation from “going over the ‘fiscal cliff’” (the combination of tax increases and spending cuts that was set to take place January 1, 2013), a more accurate metaphor is that the nation’s policymakers left the nation “hanging over the fiscal cliff.”

The budget agreement reached in the closing days of the 112th Congress addressed a limited package of taxation matters. It was not a wholesale reform of the national tax structure—just one-half of the cliff equation. And for many progressives, it was a disappointing resolution. The agreement raises income tax rates only on a higher income group than originally proposed by the President during his re-election campaign, thereby foregoing a sizeable amount of new revenue from upper income Americans that could have been applied toward important national investments in people and communities.

Left unresolved in the agreement was the other half of the cliff: sequestration (the scheduled across the board spending cuts in federal programs to which funds are appropriated annually, known as “discretionary” programs.) Congress and the President delayed sequestration only until March 2013, a two-month reprieve. Looming sequestration is the first in a series of threats to the federal health and human development programs upon which the youth and families supported by Healthy Teen Network members depend.

Also carried over from the 112th Congress is a final resolution of the annual appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013 (the fiscal year in which the federal government is currently operating). The prior Congress extended FY 2013 appropriations at the FY 2012 levels only through March 2013, setting up the prospect of a government shutdown by spring, or barring that, certainly a good deal of mischief that could lead to spending reductions on the programs upon which Healthy Teen Network members depend in order to serve their target populations.

Add to the mischief potential: Congress must also debate a raise to the debt ceiling, which limits the nation’s borrowing authority. In 2011, Members of Congress who sought a limited federal government used the debt ceiling to force passage of the Budget Control Act, which put into motion the very fiscal cliff!

And let’s not forget entitlement reform–the ever-present drive to re-design and extend (curb?) the life of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

This combination of perils to health and human development services on which the youth and families supported and represented by Healthy Teen Network are unprecedented in modern times. Healthy Teen Network will continue to track relevant Congressional activities, notify states of actions they can take, and work in partnership with the field to advocate for youth and young families. We will strive to protect and preserve the array of federal health and human development programs on which our nation’s youth depend for securing total health and quality of life.

Bob Reeg is the Senior Policy Analyst at Healthy Teen Network.

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