WASHINGTON -- The top Republican appropriators on the Hill warned in a Monday letter against keeping sequestration in place, raising the specter that the across-the-board spending cuts will be softened in a forthcoming budget deal.
The lawmakers, who serve on the House Appropriations Committee, called the second round of sequestration a legislative gambit that would complicate effective governance. Letting the cuts continue into the next fiscal year, they wrote, "would result in more indiscriminate across-the-board reductions that could have negative consequences on critically important federal programs, especially our national defense."
The letter, which was addressed to the top members of the House and Senate budget committees, reflects the increased unease that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle feel about sequestration. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), has in the past called the spending caps "unrealistic," in addition to warning that funding the government via continuing resolution greatly diminished the important role played by appropriators.
The second round of sequester cuts will go into effect 15 days after the end of the current congressional session unless a deal is made to replace them. Budget negotiators are currently working to reach such a deal, though there is disagreement over what they can or should use to pay for sequestration relief. Democrats are willing to consider some reductions to low-profile mandatory spending programs, like agriculture subsidies, while pushing harder for the closure of tax loopholes. Republicans have been adamant that any agreement not result in a net increase in spending.
The next round of sequestration cuts would deliver an additional $20 billion hit to the defense department, giving Democrats a sense that they have a negotiating advantage heading into these negotiations. But their priorities are endangered too. During a question-and-answer session last week at The Atlantic's Washington Ideas Forum, Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said that his agency was looking at another $600 million in spending cuts and would be able to award 100 fewer grants in fiscal year 2014 if sequestration was not replaced.
At that same conference, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was asked if Democrats would accept any budget deal that did not provide sequester relief.
"What would be the point?" he said of such a deal.
Read the letter here: