Washington Update for the Week of Dec. 3, 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. This year, members of Congress will make several important decisions during the lame duck that can and will affect programs that help poor and hungry people. Right now is the most critical period in our 2012 Offering of Letters campaign.
Negotiations continue between the president and congressional leaders to avoid the fiscal cliff. 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 expiration of emergency unemployment benefits, 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.
Last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner shared a White House offer with congressional leaders. The proposal, which is very similar to President Obama’s earlier budget proposals, raises $1.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years by allowing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire on income over $250,000, in addition to curtailing some tax expenditures. Republican leaders countered that the proposal did not contain sufficient spending cuts, particularly in health care spending. Republicans have stated that they are open to additional revenue, but not to raising marginal tax rates.
House Speaker Boehner produced his own proposal, which raises $800 billion in new revenue by curbing deductions and exclusions while keeping the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts in place. Offering a plan that incorporates new revenue is an important step. However, it would be extremely difficult, both politically and mathematically, for Congress to raise this amount of money through curbing tax expenditures without raising taxes on low-income households—thereby threatening important credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Speaker Boehner’s proposal also included cuts to SNAP, although he did not specify the amounts.
The framework would also establish the basic overall parameters for deficit reduction in phase two. It would set the overall amount of revenues and spending cuts. Phase two of the framework would set up a process for tax and entitlement reform next year. This likely would come in the form of instructions to congressional committees to develop the details. It is important these instructions explicitly direct the committees to direct specific programs for hungry and poor people, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the EITC, and the CTC. The framework also would include some type of enforcement mechanism to ensure Congress actually implements the plan and meets deficit reduction targets.
Only a few weeks remain for the White House and congressional leaders to iron out a deal. We are increasingly concerned about the extent to which members of Congress are not talking about the need to protect hungry and poor people as a priority of this deal.
Our messaging remains the same: work with leadership to ensure that any deal that truly incorporates a circle of protection.
This means a deal that would:
1) Explicitly protects programs for hungry and poor people against cuts or harmful changes, as the original Gang of Six’s proposal did,
2) Includes 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 U.S. and around the world, and
3) Prevents further cuts to the portion of the budget that funds yearly appropriated programs like poverty-focused development assistance, international food aid, and WIC.
We are pushing for a deal, but it must be a responsible deal—failing to raise sufficient revenues and provide upfront protections for anti-poverty programs now could mean devastating cuts 10 years from now. Regional organizers are assisting Bread members in finding opportunities to speak to Congress, both privately and publically. We continue to urge our Bread members to call their members of Congress even if they have done so before. Use our toll-free number (1-800-826-3688) to call your congressional representatives and tell them to pass a budget deal that includes a circle of protection around programs for hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world. We are also urging local news engagement as a way to bring public awareness to the needs of poor and hungry people—something that appears to be missing from the current negotiations. Writing letters to the editor sends a public message to members of Congress.
SNAP and WIC continue to be at risk as Congress works towards a deficit reduction framework. If Congress fails to avoid the sequester, the WIC program could be cut by approximately 8.2 percent after the beginning of the year. This would result in as many as 750,000 women and young children losing benefits.
Under the Budget Control Act, SNAP is protected from cuts in the sequester, but is at risk of cuts in pending farm bill negotiations. There is no clear path forward with regards to the farm bill, but there are several options on the table. Senate agriculture committee Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) continues to push for a full farm bill reauthorization, potentially as part of a final deficit reduction package. House agriculture committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) publicly stated last week that Congress could extend the farm bill into 2013. According to Rep. Lucas’ plan, Congress would extend the farm bill through the final deficit reduction framework deal and then set a target for budget savings next Congress. This means the farm bill would be written as part of phase two of deficit reduction.
As a reminder, farm programs technically expired on Sept. 30. A continuing resolution earlier this year maintains SNAP funding through March of 2013, and harmful administrative changes (such as federal price supports reverting to 1949 law) will not go into effect right away. The 2008 farm bill covers all of 2012’s calendar year crops, allowing some wiggle room for Congress to decide on how to move forward. The last time the farm bill was allowed to expire was in 2007—the bill expired on Sept. 30 of that year and an extension was not passed until Dec. 26.
SNAP Resolution Update: In 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 this morning, 94 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:
- 3.33 million people will have reduced access—or be denied access—to lifesaving food aid.
- 377,200 children will have reduced access—or be denied access—to school feeding programs.
- 656,000 children annually will lose access to quality primary school education.
- 315,000 farmers will no longer receive the investments needed to improve their yields, income, and nutrition.
- 112,500 HIV-positive pregnant women will no longer receive HIV/AIDS treatment, leading to more than 21,000 infants being infected with HIV.
- 2.5 million insecticide-treated nets will be no longer 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 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.
These credits are also in jeopardy under proposals being discussed in the fiscal cliff negotiations. Proposals to raise revenue by cutting tax expenditures threaten the EITC and CTC, which are types of tax expenditures. These credits don’t have the same powerful interest groups that many of the other major tax deductions and exclusions do, making the EITC and CTC extremely vulnerable. That is why any deal should include explicit protections for the EITC and CTC.
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 either be 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 more than 3 million people losing access to vital food assistance and 377,200 fewer children having access to quality primary school education.
Reforming U.S. Foreign Assistance: Update on 2011 Offering of Letters Campaign
On Wednesday, Dec. 12, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, is expected to introduce the Global Partnerships Act. This bill is a comprehensive framework aimed at reforming the U.S. foreign aid system and ultimately creating conditions in which assistance is no longer needed. Reforms in foreign assistance will mean more efficient and effective programs that help millions of hungry and poor people for years to come.
The bill is a testament to the hard work and dedicated advocacy of Bread members who supported Rep. Berman’s previous foreign aid reform bill—the Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009 (HR 2139)—and pushed for more effective foreign assistance as part of the 2011 Offering of Letters Campaign. The continued work of Bread’s members has helped to educate members of Congress and build the political will necessary to do more for hungry people with an effective U.S. aid system in place.
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