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Large Coalition Fights Trigger Cuts to Discretionary Budget

In the first sign that the battle is being joined against the automatic trigger cuts on the discretionary and not just the defense side of the ledger, 3,000 organizations have banded together in a giant coalition to oppose the measures.

“There is bipartisan agreement that sequestration would be devastating to the nation,” the alliance writes in a letter to members of Congress. “The nearly 3,000 undersigned national, state, and local organizations — representing the hundreds of millions of Americans who support and benefit from nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs — couldn’t agree more. Congress and the President must work together to ensure sequestration does not take effect. We strongly urge a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to NDD programs, which have already done their part to reduce the deficit.” […]

“NDD programs are not the reason behind our growing debt,” the group added. “In fact, even completely eliminating all NDD programs would still not balance the budget. Yet NDD programs have borne the brunt of deficit reduction efforts.”

One point the coalition, which includes the AARP, CARE, Greenpeace and literally thousands of others, makes is that Congress already cut $1 trillion from the discretionary budget through spending caps as part of the debt limit deal last year. This additional $600 billion would cut a part of the budget already gnawed to the bone. And the knock-on effects from cuts to the discretionary budget, which affects virtually every corner of the private economy, would be far larger than going after the bloat in the defense budget, which inevitably makes its way into the pockets of contractors and goes no further.

There are signs that Congress is starting to think about how to supplant the entire trigger, rather than just the defense cuts. A coalition this broad and deep could be an asset in that fight.

The best thing I’ve heard in the past several months is despair from Erskine Bowles that the country will “go over the fiscal cliff.” If he’s upset, it means his preferred policy of an unbalanced deal that strikes at the heart of our safety net programs is not gaining much traction. But the impact of the spending side of the fiscal cliff would be significant. So hopefully, Congress can trash this whole deficit reduction project until a recovery takes hold, or at least use revenue gains to paper over the trigger cuts and get themselves out of the box they’ve set up.

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David Dayen

David Dayen