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On December 12, the House voted 332-94 to approve the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013” (BBA), legislation setting overall federal spending levels for fiscal years (FY) 2014 and 2015. It is generally expected that the measure will clear the Senate early next week. Importantly, this compromise legislation partially rolls back the harmful sequestration cuts set to take effect in FY 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately, the BBA did not include an extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, which is set to expire on December 28.
Brokered by Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI), the BBA sets overall spending at $1.012 trillion in FY 2014 and $1.014 trillion in FY 2015. Earlier budget resolutions passed in the House and Senate set spending at $967 billion and $1.058 trillion, respectively. The agreement also provides $63 billion in sequester relief over two years, which is divided evenly between defense and non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs. The agreement is front-loaded with about $45 billion in sequester relief coming in 2014, undoing nearly two-thirds of the NDD sequester, but then nearly three-quarters of the planned NDD sequester cuts will go back into effect in 2015. Though far from perfect, this agreement will restore order to the federal budget and appropriations process, and allow for some much needed reinvestment in our nation’s eroding domestic priorities. The BBA also gives Congress additional time to find an alternative permanent solution to fully eliminate sequestration in the remaining years.
The BBA did not include an extension of the EUC program, the federally-funded extended Unemployment Insurance (UI) program that serves the long-term unemployed and ensures workers and their families have the financial assistance they need while trying to reenter the labor market. EUC benefits were extended last year as a part of the January fiscal cliff agreement, so there was hope that Congress would take similar action this year and include an extension in any compromise that emerged from the budget conference.
However, the House will adjourn for the remainder of the year today, so it is certain that the EUC program will lapse. Congress could still come back at the beginning of next year and retroactively extend the program, although the lapse will mean that some long-term unemployed will find themselves without any income support going into 2014. If Congress fails to extend the program, more than one million individuals will lose their UI benefits. NSC strongly supports the EUC program, and will urge Congress to restore the program in January.
Now that topline spending levels have been set, appropriators will move to set specific spending levels for all 12 appropriations bills, known as 302(b) allocations. The Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce (CIAW) – which NSC convenes – along with the Coalition for Health Funding (CHF) and the Committee on Education Funding (CEF) recently wrote to appropriators urging them to provide the largest possible FY 2014 302(b) allocation to the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill. Labor-HHS funds a wide range of critical education and training activities.
The continuing resolution (CR) currently funding the government will expire on January 15. If appropriators fail to pass all 12 spending bills before January 15, Congress will either pass another CR, or enact some spending bills in combination with a CR to fund the remainder of the government for the rest of the year. Both chambers already passed several appropriations bills earlier this year; however, in many cases there was a substantial gap between what came out of the House and Senate appropriations committees, in part because the two chambers were working off of two very different topline spending numbers. Now that both chambers are working off of the same topline number, it seems likely that there could be some consensus on some of the individual appropriations bills.
National Skills Coalition supports the BBA, and applauds members of Congress for working in a bipartisan manner to produce a budget agreement. However, Congress and the Administration still must find a long-term solution to sequestration that does not inflict further damage on non-defense discretionary programs, including programs that build the skills of America’s workers. NSC will continue to weigh in with policymakers on sequestration and other funding issues.