Last summer, America had a problem. With the first legislative session in Congress since the 2010 midterms almost over and partisan gridlock entering new phases of ridiculous, many members of Congress decided it would be a good time to put our fiscal house in order. The debt ceiling, which is raised periodically so that America can pay debts it has already incurred, was up for a vote to be extended once again. Instead of the mostly procedural task that needed to take place, as had always been the case, the issue became a political hot button that divided Congress and many Americans for several weeks.
Its resolution was bittersweet. Those who opposed raising the debt ceiling, and with it destroying the full faith and credit of the United States, got essentially what they wanted; the U.S. would face its skyrocketing budget deficits and ever-increasing national debt. The agreement goes like this – Republicans in the House and Senate agreed to raise the debt ceiling, HOWEVER deep cuts in the national debt would need to be made. The Budget Control Act of 2011 raised the debt ceiling and created a “super committee” evenly comprised of senators and representatives from both parties. Members of the super committee would be responsible for coming up with $917 billion over 10 years in deficit reduction measures, whether by revenue increases, spending cuts or both.
If the super committee failed to make cuts totaling the prescribed amount by Dec. 23, 2011, then things would get nasty. Part of the compromise that was reached to raise the debt ceiling was the creation of a contingency plan to ensure that lawmakers couldn’t kick the can down the road. Known as “sequestration cuts” or just “the sequester,” it would blow up in the faces of Democrats and Republicans alike. If the committee couldn’t come up with ways to reduce the national debt by $917 billion, then automatic and indiscriminate cuts would kick in across all federal spending. Republicans, whose biggest concern was defense spending, would see their pet programs cut by a whopping 10 percemt. Democrats, concerned about welfare programs and spending on things like education and the environment, would see their budget items cut between 7.6 and 8.2 percent. Sure enough, on Nov. 21, 2011, members of the super committee admitted defeat – they simply could not agree on how to cut the debt.
Why does this affect people who care about NASA? Well, unless Congress acts to repeal the sequester, NASA will face an 8.2 percent cut next year totaling $1.45 billion dollars. And remember, that percentage exists regardless of whatever NASA’s budget is. Let’s say NASA has its budget doubled tomorrow? They’ll see an 8.2 percent cut. How about if its budget was cut in half? Here’s an 8.2 percent cut anyway! That formula will go on for nine years afterwards. The bomb drops on Jan. 2, and Congress has very little time and a lot of major issues to tackle before then.
The team at Penny4NASA believes wholeheartedly that the United States faces many serious fiscal challenges that deserve the attention of our elected officials and the American voter. However, we do not support the notion that indiscriminate, vicious and sweeping cuts made on the backs of all those whom NASA benefits (everyone) is the proper way to go about it. In the coming days, we’re going to go a lot more in-depth on this issue and break down exactly what this means for NASA and the immediate future of American space exploration. We’re also working on a new widget message that will be aimed solely at communicating with your member of Congress so you can let them know that averting these disastrous cuts is paramount.