|Sequestration Status; New Arts Ed Caucus|
Last month, I wrote about Congress's decision to delay for 60 days the across-the-board reductions in federal spending, known as sequestration, that were set to occur on January 2. At the time, I had hoped that when I wrote to you again, we would have a clearer picture of what Congress planned to do about sequestration and the other looming fiscal challenges.
Well, it is a month later, and Congress seems more uncertain of how to proceed than ever. Before I explain why, here is a quick overview of the upcoming deadlines demanding congressional action:
- March 1: Sequestration begins. Funding for all domestic discretionary programs, including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), is cut by 8.2%.
- March 27: The six-month continuing resolution funding the federal government expires. Without an agreement between Congress and the White House, the federal government is shut down.
- May 19: The United States will default on outstanding debt unless Congress authorizes an increase in the nation's debt limit.
The sequence of these events has created chaos in Congress, because lawmakers hoping to write a budget bill to take the government beyond the current continuing resolution that expires March 27 say they can't even begin their work until Congress chooses how to act, or whether to act at all, to avert sequestration.
This is because any agreement on sequestration almost certainly will impact the funding levels for every federal agency. As a result, until a course of action regarding sequestration is determined, congressional appropriators have no way to gauge how much money will be available across departments and programs.
In public comments made last week, Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said that the uncertainty over the sequester is handicapping the committee's ability to write even a basic plan that would extend the current continuing resolution. These comments indicate that unless Congress reaches a decision on sequestration soon, which appears very unlikely, it will have no choice but to try to pass another continuing resolution for the remainder of fiscal year 2013.
Complicating matters further, President Barack Obama's budget request for FY2014 is expected to be delivered to Congress in the coming weeks, so work on a new continuing resolution for FY2013 will be going on even as work begins on spending bills for FY2014.
Be sure to read NASAA CEO Jonathan Katz's recent communication, Update on Federal Policy, NEA Transition and More, for a deeper understanding of how the current situation affects arts advocates and state arts agencies.
New Arts Education Caucus Created
Last week, representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Aaron Schock (R-IL) announced the creation of the Congressional STEAM Caucus (STEAM being the acronym for science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics). According to Representative Schock, the intention of the caucus is to promote and support policies that provide for a greater integration of the arts in the classroom.
As a nascent organization on Capitol Hill, the caucus's membership and broader role in shaping policy are unclear at this point; however, NASAA is pleased to see the bipartisan effort made by both members to advocate for arts education on Capitol Hill and looks forward to working with the caucus this year.