What's at Stake with the Super Committee? Everything.
Listen: HIV/AIDS in Uganda and St. Francis Health Care Services
Just as a household budget can become a complicated process of negotiating family members’ needs, wants, and priorities, the federal budget process in Washington, DC, can be taxing, with everyone vying for their piece of the pie.
Last August, President Obama and congressional leaders approved the Budget Control Act, which raised the debt ceiling but also mandated reducing the deficit by at least $2.1 trillion over 10 years. The bill was created to prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt, which would have had disastrous economic consequences. Now it’s up to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or Super Committee)—a group of 12 members, three from each party in each house—to create a proposal that will cut trillions from the deficit.
Super Committee Deadlines Are Approaching
The committee includes Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), John Kerry (D-MA), John Kyl (R-AZ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Pat Toomey (R-PA); Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Dave Camp (R-MI), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Fred Upton (R-MI), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Sen. Murray and Rep. Hensarling are the committee’s co-chairs.
The Super Committee is directed to propose a set of recommendations that will reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The committee can look at every part of the budget—including revenues, entitlement reforms, and defense spending, as well as entitlement programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), unemployment insurance, Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Child Tax Credit—to come up with ways to reduce the deficit. In essence, everything is at stake.
“We need and support deficit reduction,” says Amelia Kegan, senior policy analyst at Bread. “But when the economy is so weak, we shouldn’t focus solely on budget cuts or changes to vital programs that serve people in need.”
Indeed, recent Census numbers reveal that in 2010 the U.S. poverty rate rose to 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. An estimated 46 million people live in poverty in the United States, many of whom depend on programs such as SNAP and Medicaid to survive.
“These programs are running efficiently,” says Kegan. “SNAP is meeting increased need due to the economy and at the same time working at the lowest error rates on record. We shouldn’t cut these programs that serve the people most in need.”
So how will the Super Committee decide which programs to cut? First, each regular committee in the House and Senate can give its own suggestions on how to cut the deficit by October 14, 2011. The Super Committee must then vote on its own set of recommendations and send them to Congress by November 23, 2011. Congress must then vote on the Super Committee’s recommendations by December 23, 2011.
It’s possible that the Super Committee won’t come to an agreement. If that occurs, across-the-board cuts will be triggered, beginning 2013. While low-income entitlement programs would be exempt, discretionary spending programs will be vulnerable—including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Head Start, housing programs, job-training programs, international poverty-focused development assistance, and food aid.
A third possibility is that the Super Committee could agree on some deficit reduction, but not the full $1.2 trillion. If this occurs, across-the-board cuts would be smaller.
What Can We Do?
The stakes are high no matter how you slice the pie. But we can influence our members of Congress—particularly those who sit on the Super Committee—and ask them to form a circle of protection around domestic and international programs for hungry and poor people. As people of faith, we need to tell our members of Congress that the Super Committee must take a balanced and just approach to cutting the deficit.
Reach out to your member of Congress—through a personal visit, by personal letter or email, or by telephone. Urge them to protect funding for programs for hungry and poor people. Tell them deficit reduction should not be accomplished on the backs of the most vulnerable people in our nation and world.
You can also contact your regional organizer for help coordinating a visit or communicating with your member of Congress.