In August 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act which sought to put a framework in place for reaching a high-level agreement on overall federal spending and deficit reduction. The Budget Control Act (BCA) raised the debt ceiling; set caps on discretionary spending for FY12 and FY13 at levels almost $1 trillion lower than FY10; and established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Known as the Super Committee, it was tasked with recommending at least $1.2 trillion in reductions from federal spending by November 23, 2011 which would have to be passed into law by December 23, 2011.
The Super Committee did not reach agreement on a plan to recommend to the full Congress, triggering across the board cuts to nearly all defense and non-defense discretionary spending programs (essentially all government functions except the entitlement programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security). With no congressional action to divert the sequester, it went into effect with passage of the FY13 appropriations bills. Non-defense discretionary spending, including the justice assistance programs, was cut by 5 percent from the level passed in the FY13 bills.
NCJA has been active in a large coalition of stakeholder organizations with interest in the discretionary portion of the budget, including health, education, environment, foreign aid, anti-poverty programs, science, research, and many other policy areas. These groups came together to educate Congress about the magnitude of the cuts already taken from discretionary spending in the FY11 and FY12 funding cycles and the impact of future cuts.
The FY13 appropriations cycle was completed when Congress passed an omnibus spending bill on March 26, 2013, a day before the last continuing resolution was set to expire. That omnibus bill was a continuing resolution extending funding at FY12 levels for nine of the 12 appropriations bills. Three of the bills were pre-conferenced and added to the bill, including the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) bill which has jurisdiction over Department of Justice grant funding.
The Budget Control Act set out limits on federal spending through FY21, so unless amended or repealed by Congress, the sequester will force a reduction in funding by equivalent amounts every year through FY21. In FY13, the sequester took its cut from the final FY13 appropriations bills. In FY14 through FY21, the mechanism will be a reduction in the overall cap on discretionary spending, leaving it to appropriators to allocate the lower resources across the 12 appropriations bills and all programs and projects. This puts the justice assistance grants in competition with other functions of the agency. Also, a second “fiscal cliff” is looming when the federal debt ceiling needs again to be raised, sometime in the autumn.