Congress Passes Two-Year Budget Deal
[Note: this article appears in Bread’s 2015 November-December newsletter]
By Jennifer Gonzalez and Amelia Kegan
After months of fiscal gridlock on Capitol Hill, with threats of a government shutdown or a U.S. default, Congress last month finally passed a two-year federal budget agreement.
The deal was struck just days before House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio turned over his gavel to Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
A victory for Bread activists
This is a momentous victory for Bread for the World members, who spent all year pushing hard for a budget deal that would stop the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. Sequestration was intended to be the “stick” that convinced Congress to reach a budget deal for 2013: indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts so drastic that both parties would make compromises to avoid them.
But those negotiations failed, and since then, Bread members have been working to limit sequestration’s damage to programs that help hungry and poor people. The budget agreement just reached will prevent about 75 percent of the cuts that would otherwise have been triggered by sequestration in 2016 and 2017 — about $80 billion in “relief” from sequestration.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, the agreement’s formal name, was the product of discussions between congressional leaders and the White House, but it was also a consequence of vocal advocacy from people across the country, demanding a better budget.
“Kudos to Speaker John Boehner for using the occasion of his retirement to get the nation’s work done. This deal is important to all of us, but especially to those who are struggling with hunger and poverty,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “The budget agreement recognizes that we cannot afford any more cuts to programs serving people who can least afford it. It also reduces uncertainty that could slow economic recovery and weaken the job market.”
The budget deal holds true to all the principles Bread members supported: beyond cancelling $80 billion of the automatic cuts, it raises the federal borrowing limit — necessary to prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt, bringing far-reaching harmful economic consequences. It also maintains the “parity principle,” meaning that non-defense spending receives just as much protection from sequestration as defense spending. Congress paid for this legislation in a balanced manner, with responsible cuts and some revenues. Hunger programs were not cut in the process.
The Bipartisan Budget Act isn’t perfect, but it gives the federal government some breathing room from the budget brinksmanship and threats of default of the past couple of years. Critical nutrition and poverty programs are off the chopping block for now.
Next steps: Divvying up the pie
The next step is equally critical: now that the broader agreement has been enacted, Congress will allocate the funding among the various federal programs. How much funding is given to nutrition and other programs that serve vulnerable people will depend on the outcome of this process. It’s essential for Bread members to advocate vigorously for adequate funding for these efforts. The timeframe is short. Congress must pass a spending bill that divides up the funding before Dec. 11 to avoid the threat of another government shutdown.
“Agreement on the budget now allows Congress to focus on other legislative priorities that have serious implications for people struggling with hunger and poverty. First up is ensuring anti-hunger programs receive adequate funding under the new budget agreement. Additional priorities include reauthorizing the child nutrition programs, passing the Global Food Security Act, and making improvements in the earned income tax credit and child tax credit permanent, rather than allowing them to expire,” Beckmann said.
Jennifer Gonzalez is the associate online editor at Bread for the World. Amelia Kegan is Bread’s deputy director of government relations.