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Headlines from the Hill Dollars and…sense?

The 112th Congress continues to focus on fiscal matters. There is the looming “fiscal cliff” that Congress will have to face as the end of the year approaches and the new Congress begins. The congressional appropriations process is a yearly activity that is currently underway.

The “fiscal cliff” watch continues

The “fiscal cliff” is defined as several economic quandaries that Congress needs to address by the end of this congressional session in December 2012 or by January 2013. These include tax cuts, the “sequester,” and the debt ceiling.

For instance, the temporary tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush and extended under President Obama are set to expire January 2013. Conventional wisdom suggests that if the tax cuts expire, the impact would hit tax payers hard at a very fragile time in the economy.

The sequester, established under the Budget Control Act of August 2011 and set to take effect January 2013, would cut both defense and nondefense discretionary budgets equally, estimated to be about 8% across the board, to reach $1.2 trillion in savings. Cuts to defense and nondefense spending would impact jobs, public health, national infrastructure, and educational programs.

In addition to the tax cuts and the sequester, the United States is projected to reach its debt ceiling again between now and the end of the year. Congress would need to approve another increase in the debt ceiling to avoid default on our national debts.

Although all these problems are potentially devastating, the sequester, with its across-the-board cuts, could have the most widely felt impact. Meanwhile, the annual congressional appropriations process continues to advance.

Congressional appropriations process picks up

The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Committee took the first step of passing the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill on June 14. (See Proposed appropriations for nurses’ programs by clicking the PDF icon above.) The Senate bill does not cut deeply into budgets and included funding for nursing workforce development programs at the same level as the FY 2012 level. It also provides $364 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ). The Senate bill awaits floor action, which is not likely to occur.

On July 17, the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations subcommittee passed a fiscal year 2013 draft spending bill. The bill has deeper cuts to spending than the agreed-upon numbers under the Budget Control Act passed last summer. It does not include specific numbers for nursing workforce development programs; they will be included if the full Labor-HHS-Education Committee marks up a bill. The House bill, however, proposes termination of AHRQ. Additionally, the House spending outline eliminates funding for implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

What’s next? At press time, it appeared that Senate and House leaders had agreed on a short-term plan to fund the government through March 2013 at the levels included in last summer’s debt deal. Given the alternatives, this scenario, if ultimately agreed upon by Congress, keeps monies flowing for nursing programs. Dollars and sense? Time will tell.

ANA will continue to advocate for funding for programs of importance to nurses. For updates, visit www.rnaction.org.

April Canter is the associate director of government affairs at ANA.

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