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The Fiscal Cliffhanger–What has happened so far
Congress struck a last minute deal to avoid the fiscal cliff – a combination of increases in tax rates, expiration of tax credits, and massive cuts in government discretionary spending that were set to occur on Jan. 2, 2013. There was, however, no grand bargain on deficit reduction; instead, the lesser compromise focused almost solely on taxation. The Bush era tax rates were made permanent for 99.1 percent of all Americans and a number of tax credits, such as the one for wind energy development, were also extended.
The issues of entitlement reform, across-the-board budget cuts (sequester), and debt-ceiling limit were not addressed. Instead, the sequester was delayed by two months and moderately reduced. The across-the-board budget cuts to non-defense discretionary funding fell from 8.2 percent to 5.9 percent due to the agreement on taxation. The percentage cut on defense discretionary funding decreased from 9.4 percent to 7.3 percent.
The Fiscal Cliffhanger–Where are things heading
The deal on tax rates has, in effect, removed any new revenue from the table as House Republicans have publicly stated they will not accept any further tax increases. House Republicans will be looking to reduce the deficit through entitlement reform and reduced discretionary spending.
Senate Democrats, in preparation for the debate on the new fiscal cliff, have indicated that they will not consider any changes to entitlement programs. They are also highly unlikely to consider sparing the defense budget from the sequester if it places the burden squarely on non-defense discretionary funding, as a number of House Republicans have urged.
House and Senate Republicans have warned that they are loath to raise the debt ceiling without corresponding cuts to government spending. The White House has stated it will not negotiate raising the debt ceiling since it represents an obligation to pay bills previously incurred by Congress.
With the compromise on taxes, the path to reducing the deficit has narrowed significantly. The impasse between Republicans and Democrats over entitlement reform, spending cuts, and the debt-ceiling may very well lead to a scenario in which 1) the reduced sequester occurs in March 2013; 2) the Continuing Resolution (currently funding federal programs) is extended through the end of Fiscal Year 2013; and, 3) the debt ceiling is raised for one year. The White House and Congress would then be able to move on to Fiscal Year 2014.
Fiscal Year 2014 Presidential Budget Request
The White House has indicated that the president’s budget request, typically delivered the first Monday in February, is likely to be delayed until March.
ISSUE:Key Scientific Posts in the Second Obama Administration
In Obama’s second term many of the agency leadership positions are expected to remain unchanged. Likely to stay for at least another four years are: OSTP Director John Holdren; NIST Director Patrick Gallagher; NASA Administrator Charles Bolden; and NIH Director Francis Collins.
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Office of Science Director Bill Brinkman are expected to leave their posts.
NSF Director Subra Suresh is on a six-year cycle.
A study of the technical issues surrounding the extension of nuclear reactor licenses from 60 to 80 years is under way. The Study Committee has been selected, and a meeting will be held in Washington, D.C. in February.
A study for the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) regarding trends in nuclear and radiological detection, sponsored jointly by APS and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), is under review and will be released in 2013.
A tactical nuclear weapons workshop, sponsored by the State Department, in conjunction with the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), will be held in February.
A template for study proposals can be found online, along with a suggestion box for future POPA studies.
Suggestions and Templates for APS Policy Studies
ISSUE: MEDIA UPDATE
APS student members Kelly Reidy, John Mergo and Brian Tice recently authored op-eds on the devastating effects that would occur to science under sequestration.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer published Reidy’s piece, “U.S. must avoid deep science cuts,” on Dec. 20, 2012. The Ithaca Journal ran an op-ed co-authored by Mergo and Tice headlined, “Sequestration would harm future of science” on Dec. 28, 2012.
The students pointed out in their pieces that their careers and America’s economic growth would be jeopardized under sequestration.
In a related item, Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for APS, was quoted in a Nature story on Jan. 2, 2013, titled, “U.S. fiscal deal leaves science vulnerable.”
Lubell noted science may end up in better shape under the new fiscal deal due to reductions in proposed funding cuts.
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Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella