Washington Update for the Week of Nov. 19, 2012
A weekly legislative update from Bread for the World's government relations team.
The House and Senate have both returned for a short lame duck period of work before the end of this legislative session of Congress. The phrase “lame duck” refers to the period between the November regular election and January, when new members of Congress take office. Traditionally, the lame duck session is a time when current lawmakers are deemed ineffective—whether or not this designation has merit—as they await the conclusion of their term. This year, however, that implication is being challenged as members of Congress will make several important decisions during the lame duck.
Negotiations to avert the “fiscal cliff” and achieve significant deficit reduction kicked off last Friday, as President Barack Obama met with congressional leadership to attempt to reach a deal. The term “fiscal cliff” refers to the impending sequester ($1.2 billion in automatic cuts over 10 years), the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, the unfinished 2013 appropriations bill, the unemployment insurance sunset and the upcoming debt ceiling, and various other expiring policies—all of which will occur at the beginning of 2013. Lawmakers are working toward a proposal that deals with these challenges and also reduces the deficit by as much as $4 trillion over 10 years.
The Gang of Eight continues to meet, although they appear to have stalled a bit, and negotiations have moved to congressional leadership and the president. We expect to see a comprehensive deficit reduction proposal come out of the current negotiations. Since members of Congress don't have time to draft a bill that outlines all of the specifics in a $4 trillion deficit reduction package, the deal would be more of a framework, which would set the ground rules for how Congress would move forward in achieving deficit reduction. The proposal would likely include a down payment to avoid the scheduled across-the-board cuts and also address the expiration of at least some of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. This framework also would include some type of enforcement mechanism to ensure Congress actually implements the plan and meets deficit reduction targets.
The provisions in this framework agreement are extremely important, and we want to ensure it is balanced, responsible, and enables our country to continue its strong commitment to ending hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. Rules matter, and if Congress isn't careful, a bad framework deal could put us on a course that would have dire consequences for poor families and low-income individuals. Failing to raise sufficient revenues and provide upfront protections for anti-poverty programs now could mean devastating cuts 10 years from now.
There is a small window of opportunity for influencing the deal. Every special interest group is trying to get in front of Congress now, and programs for hungry people are at risk. We want to see Congress pass a deal and avoid the fiscal cliff, but it absolutely must be responsible. It must include a circle of protection.
We are telling members of Congress to work with leadership to ensure that any deal truly incorporates a circle of protection, which means:
1) Explicitly protect low-income entitlement programs for hungry and poor people—including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Child Tax Credit (CTC)—against cuts or harmful changes.
2) Include additional tax revenue balanced with responsible spending cuts so that our country can reduce its deficits while continuing its commitment to addressing hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world.
3) Prevent further cuts to the portion of the budget that funds yearly appropriated programs (also known as non-defense discretionary), including poverty-focused development assistance, international food aid, and WIC.
Bread for the World organizers are working with Bread members to secure local meetings with key members of Congress, attract local media attention, and increase pressure on these members from their constituencies, so that they know these programs must be protected.
Watch for our action alert next week. We will be calling members of Congress and telling them that we want to see a bipartisan plan to address our deficits—one that forms a circle of protection around programs (including SNAP, WIC, the EITC, poverty-focused development assistance and food aid) for hungry and poor people. We encourage you to call, and to also ask at least three friends to do the same.
Currently, Congress has two weeks of work days scheduled through the end of the year, but we expect them to add more work days in December. We will keep you posted and follow the Bread Blog for daily updates.
If Congress does not act to avoid the sequester, the WIC program could be cut by approximately 8 percent after the beginning of the year. This would result in as many as 750,000 women and young children losing benefits.
SNAP is protected from cuts in the sequester, but is at risk of cuts in pending farm bill negotiations. A continuing resolution earlier this year maintains SNAP funding through March of 2013, despite the expiration of current farm bill law in September. House agriculture committee chairman Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and senate agriculture committee chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) indicated last week that a farm bill could be completed as part of a deficit reduction package.
House Leadership has indicated that the farm bill is on their list of lame duck priorities, but it is still unclear if it would be considered on the House floor and sent to conference committee or if the House will push for their version to be included in a deficit reduction package. Major differences still exist between the two chambers’ proposals on both nutrition and farm policy and Sen. Stabenow has publicly stated she will not support using the House farm bill as written because of the size of the SNAP cuts ($16 billion, compared to the Senate’s $4.5 billion).
SNAP Resolution Update: This August, Representatives Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), George Miller (D-Calif.), and Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) introduced H. Res. 760, a resolution rejecting cuts to SNAP in the proposed House farm bill (H.R. 6083). The resolution is non-binding but it is an opportunity to have members of Congress show strong support for protecting SNAP by co-sponsoring the resolution. As of November 21, 86 members have cosponsored the resolution. (A full list of cosponsors can be found here).
PFDA programs critical to long-term poverty reduction are subject to cuts in January if sequestration is enacted. The programs would take an 8.2 percent cut, according to a White House Office of Management and Budget report. These cuts could mean lives lost around the world. Often misunderstood and considered low-hanging fruit, these programs have consistently been included in proposals that would cut them—even though they represent a very small fraction of discretionary funding and the federal budget (less than 1 percent). An 8.2 percent cut to PFDA accounts could mean:
- 112,500 fewer HIV-positive pregnant women will receive HIV/AIDS treatment, leading to more than 21,000 infants being infected with HIV.
- 656,000 fewer children annually will have access to quality primary school education.
- 2.5 million fewer insecticide-treated nets will be available under the Global Fund, leading to 6,500 deaths from malaria.
Unless Congress acts, improvements made over the last decade to the refundable EITC and the CTC will expire on Dec, 31, along with the rest of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Not only do these tax credits bolster local economies, they pull more people out of poverty than any other program in the country, except for Social Security. The U.S. Census released data last week showing that the EITC kept 6.1 million people out of poverty in 2011, including 3.1 million children.
The Census data also showed that the safety net cut poverty nearly in half in 2011 (from 90 million people to 50 million people). (Read more about this data here).
Pending farm bill negotiations could significantly impact international food aid programs. If members of Congress decide to pass a farm bill during the lame duck session or combine it with a full deficit reduction package, food aid could be either cut or bolstered in the process. The House and Senate farm bills differ significantly on food aid policy—the Senate bill makes much needed improvements to international food aid programs and the House bill cuts food aid quality programs by more than 95 percent.
Food aid is also subject to sequester and may be cut by 8.2 percent, which would result in over 3 million people losing access to vital food assistance and 377,200 fewer children having access to quality primary school education.
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