By Rebecca Farley, Director of Policy & Advocacy at the National Council and Managing Editor of MentalHealthcareReform.org
Writing this week’s Public Policy Update was somewhat of an exercise in finding synonyms for the word “cut.” This special budget edition lays out the threats to health and social services programs for low-income individuals and families – including congressional attempts to repeal health reform, roll back Medicaid, and strip funding from other important programs that support this population.
In all the hubbub over the 2012 elections and ongoing politicized rhetoric on cable news and online media, it makes sense to take a moment to reflect on the broader forces shaping this year’s budget process. Over the last two years, deficit reduction has become a mantra among fiscal conservatives. Yet, this bloc of legislators has rejected deficit reduction techniques like raising revenues in favor of a spending reduction approach that cuts the deficit purely by cutting funding for federal programs. This pressure from fiscal conservatives has split the House Republican caucus, making it almost impossible for Speaker John Boehner to effectively negotiate with Senate Democrats. Many Democrats, in turn, have hardened their positions, leading to one legislative impasse after another.
Debt ceiling increases that in former years were rubber-stamped by Congress became the subject of such debate in 2011 that the country almost risked defaulting on its financial obligations. Not one, but several government shutdowns have appeared imminent as Congress sought 11th-hour deals on bills to extend the government’s spending authority. Now, as lawmakers debate the budget for fiscal year 2013, fiscal ideologies are once again colliding over questions such as how to ensure the long-term solvency of Medicare, how best to support states in providing healthcare services to low-income populations through Medicaid, and what federally funded healthcare initiatives should be sustained or eliminated.
As you will see in the articles below, federal monies that support behavioral health are under attack on multiple levels: from attempts to repeal portions of the health reform law that fund such activities, to efforts to roll back sequestration by cutting health and social services programs. These endeavors offer clues to future years’ budgets – and highlight the importance of continued advocacy and vigilance for our field.
There has been no more important time to stay informed about Congress’ activities and positions on policies that affect mental health and addiction treatment services. The 2013 budget and the outlook for future years’ appropriations will be a major topic at the National Council’s 8th Annual Public Policy Institute and Hill Day. Our program features a panel of speakers who will discuss congressional perspectives on the 2013 appropriations process, the importance of the Prevention and Public Health Fund, and engaging in advocacy to influence the budget. In addition, our keynote speaker Ari Shapiro of NPR News will offer an insider’s look into the Romney and Obama campaigns, along with insights on the implications of this year’s elections. Please visit our Hill Day website to learn more and register.
This article is part of this week’s series on the 2013 budget. Click to read our coverage of the 2013 appropriations process, threats to the Prevention and Public Health Fund, and Congress’ efforts to avoid sequestration.