The budget conference agreement, if adopted by Congress, will represent one of the most radical budget plans that lawmakers have adopted since they created the modern budget process in 1974.
That's no exaggeration. If they follow this plan, lawmakers would eviscerate substantial parts of the federal government -- including parts that have previously enjoyed bipartisan support -- and they also would violate the clear intent of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).
- More than doubling the sequestration cuts: Not content with the damaging cuts under sequestration, which is slated to return in full force in 2016, the plan would more than double the cuts in non-defense discretionary programs over the coming decade. These programs include education, job training, infrastructure, scientific research, medical research, veterans' health care, child care, and many other important areas. Starting in 2016, sequestration will cut them by an average of $37 billion a year, on top of the cuts that the BCA's tight funding caps already impose. The new agreement adds another $496 billion in cuts over the coming decade -- an average of another $50 billion a year.
The plan would likely weaken long-term economic growth by slashing funding for areas like education, research, and infrastructure that help promote growth. It would reduce opportunity by making college less affordable for students of modest means. It would increase poverty due to its deep cuts in health, nutrition, and other supports for the least fortunate Americans. And it would widen inequality, which is already at or near its highest levels in nearly a century.
Fortunately, most of this agreement will not readily become law. But the agreement shows how far Congress has strayed from a positive, productive path. The nation needs to chart a very different one.