The 2013 budget is a major point of contention between Democrats and Republicans, who have scuffled over top-line funding levels, cuts to specific programs, and non-fiscal “policy riders” attached to the appropriations bills. Over the past several years, Congress has not been able to enact a budget before the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1 and has been forced to rely on a series of continuing resolutions to keep the government operational while lawmakers debate the terms of a deal.
The approaching elections have made negotiations on the 2013 budget even stickier than in past years. A House Appropriations subcommittee recently approved a version of the budget that included cuts to SAMHSA in excess of $300 million. According to committee statements, this includes rescinding all funding from the Affordable Care Act, including the Prevention and Public Health Fund which SAMHSA uses to support important programs like Primary Care-Behavioral Health Integration and Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment grants. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed a healthcare spending bill that includes increases or level funding for key programs within SAMHSA. It is unlikely that either chamber’s proposals will become law exactly as written; instead, they are widely seen as starting points for the eventual negotiations that will have to occur between the House and Senate.
The new agreement essentially allows lawmakers to punt major decisions about the budget into the next session of Congress. Reports indicate that the continuing resolution will be free from policy riders such as the elimination of ACA funding, and will reject the steeper levels of 2013 cuts demanded by fiscal conservatives in the House. Additional details will become available when the precise legislative language is drafted.
The agreement clears the way for Congress to focus on several other major fiscal issues that must be resolved by the end of the year: the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, an impending 27% cut to Medicare physician payments, and the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts slated to take effect January 1.