The United States Congress began a two-week spring recess on March 23, 2013, leaving behind a mixed record for addressing the nation’s fiscal challenges.  Congress permitted across-the-board federal spending cuts to go into effect on March 1, 2013.  Three weeks after that deadline, Congress approved an appropriations bill to fund the government through September 30, 2013.  That spending bill slightly mitigated the effects of across-the-board cuts for certain departments and programs and also prevented the government shutdown that had been feared.

In addition, the United States Senate for the first time in four years passed a budget resolution.  Senate passage of a budget, which sets broad spending goals for fiscal year 2014 (October 1, 2013, to September 30, 2014), may set in motion a negotiation between the Senate and House to resolve the differences between their budgets.   The Senate approved its budget on March 23, 2013, and the House acted just days earlier.  The House and Senate budget resolutions represent decidedly different visions of federal roles and responsibilities, and some predict that little progress will be made in the negotiation process.  Nevertheless, Senate leaders have signaled that they will formally request a conference committee to resolve budget differences, and President Obama has reportedly begun discussions with Congressional leaders about a big budget deal.

While the country awaits steps toward a “great bargain” on taxes and spending, cancer survivors can begin to assess the impact of across-the-board cuts, or sequestration, as well as the effects of the FY 2013 funding bill on cancer care and research.

  • Congress approved a modest increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the FY 2013 spending bill, but this increase only slightly cushions the approximately 5% cut in funding that is the result of sequestration.  Officials at NIH and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have reported that research will slow and the ability to fund promising new research will be hampered.  More details about the impact of sequestration on biomedical research will be forthcoming from NIH and NCI.
  • The Balanced Budget Act that put sequestration into motion permitted a Medicare cut of only 2% (instead of the discretionary spending cut of more than 5%).  Medicare providers have received notices that their reimbursement will be trimmed by 2% for the remainder of the fiscal year.  Medicare beneficiaries will be responsible for cost-sharing on the full Medicare allowable amount, or the amount before the 2% reduction is applied.