If the congressional “supercommittee” doesn’t agree on new deficit-reduction measures, non-defense discretionary spending — the part of the budget that includes education and training, research and development, transportation, public health, veterans’ health care, and the administration of justice, among other things — will face about $300 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts over the 2013-2021 period. That’s in addition to the large cuts that the Budget Control Act already put in place.
But proposals that the committee is considering — such as the Democratic offer of early last week — could cut non-defense discretionary spending by even greater amounts.
Some argue that it is important for the supercommittee to reach an agreement in order to avoid automatic cuts in non-defense discretionary spending. For example, 130 university presidents have signed a letter to supercommittee members urging them to cut entitlement spending and increase revenues in order to avoid further cuts in scientific research. But a deal could prove worse for nondefense discretionary spending than simply allowing the automatic cuts to go into effect.
The Democratic offer would cut discretionary spending as a whole — defense and non-defense combined — by $400 billion over ten years. The offer states that these cuts would be divided equally between defense and non-defense programs, but it doesn’t explicitly include the critical mechanism needed to guarantee that this would happen: separate caps for defense and non-defense spending for each year from 2014 through 2021. (Under current law, separate caps will exist in those years only if the committee fails to achieve $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.)