The Agreement to Re-Open the Federal Government and Raise the Nation’s Debt Ceiling – What Does it Mean to The Arc?

The Arc is relieved that Congress reached a last minute agreement to reopen the federal government and avoid defaulting on our debts.  The government shutdown had already put in jeopardy services and supports that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) rely on, and the narrowly averted default would have resulted in an economic crisis in our country and around the world that would have affected all citizens.   However, despite this temporary victory, we recognize the very difficult challenges that lie ahead for the disability community in the next few months.

What is in the Agreement?  The measure, which passed by comfortable margins in both chambers and was signed shortly afterwards by President Obama, has five key provisions:

  1. reopening of the federal government through January 15 at sequestration levels (the approximately 5% automatic, across-the-board spending cuts for discretionary program);
  2. an extension of the debt limit until February 7 and a provision that requires a proactive vote to disapprove extending the debt limit, as opposed to having regular votes to raise it;
  3. establishment of a House-Senate budget conference committee to come up with long-term spending plans by December 13;
  4. a requirement for income verification for recipients of subsidies under the Affordable Care Act’s newly-established health insurance exchanges; and
  5. back pay for furloughed federal workers.

How does this impact The Arc?  The budget conference committee is a return to a more normal way of doing business in the Congress.  However, it does mean that everything is on the table for consideration, including  proposals harmful to people with I/DD that have surfaced in previous budget proposals.  Some of these have included cuts to entitlement programs that people with disabilities rely on for their health and economic security, such as block granting Medicaid and dramatically cutting spending for the program, turning Medicare into a voucher program and cutting payments to doctors, and reducing the costs of living adjustments for Social Security and other programs through the adoption of the “chained” consumer price index (CPI).  Discretionary programs (which include disability-related programs such as housing, education, and employment) also have been targeted for further cuts.   On the other hand, the budget conference committee leadership already met, with some leaders stressing that they must find common ground.  Learn more about the budget conference at Politico.com.

What Can The Arc Do?  The Arc and our network of advocates must be prepared to respond if the budget conference committee begins to seriously consider “entitlement reform,” which mostly consists of cuts and harmful changes to Medicaid, Social Security and its disability programs, and Medicare, as well as threats to funding for critical discretionary programs.  The Arc will monitor this closely.  Learn more about how to get involved by signing up for our Action E-List.