Congress has been unable to reach an agreement on its 12 annual appropriations bills, which fund federal programs and agencies important to veterinary medicine. Now, it has until Sept. 30—when funding ends for the current fiscal year—to negotiate, or the government will shut down.
A broad coalition of 2,500 organizations, including the AVMA and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, comprise NDD United, which is calling on Congress for a balanced approach to reducing the budget deficit. On Sept. 10, NDD United sent a letter to all members of Congress urging them to replace the sequester-level budget caps in a balanced manner for both defense and non-defense discretionary programs, which includes a diverse range of programs such as agriculture, education, healthcare, research and science, and disaster assistance.
Starting in 2013, Congress set a hard cap on the amount of money the government can spend, known as “sequestration.” If Congress enacted spending bills that exceeded those caps, then across-the-board spending cuts would automatically be imposed on all federal agencies. In 2014 and 2015, Congress attempted to scale back the depth of the budgetary cuts, but unfortunately, they are set to take place once again each year from 2016 through 2021.
The sequestration cuts would reduce non-defense discretionary funding below the austere Budget Control Act cap levels by about $215 billion during that period. If sequestration stays in place, by 2021, funding for non-defense programs will be 18 percent below the 2010 level (adjusted for inflation).
Non-defense discretionary programs have already incurred deep funding cuts since 2010, and their current funding is the lowest level on record dating back to the early 1960s. It becomes challenging for the AVMA to stave off cuts to its top priorities since all of the programs it advocates for annually are discretionary programs of importance to veterinary medicine.
The NDD United letter says,
Such sequestration relief must be equally balanced between nondefense and defense programs, as strong investments in both NDD [nondefense discretionary] and defense are necessary to keep our country competitive, safe, and secure. There is bipartisan agreement that sequestration is bad policy and ultimately hurts our nation. It’s time to end the era of austerity.
Lawmakers will continue to work on this issue in the weeks to come, but with a very busy schedule, including a visit by Pope Francis and debate over the Iran nuclear deal, it is unclear if their work to pass the appropriations bills will be finished before the current funding expires.