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“Despite our inability to bridge the committee’s significant differences, we end this process united in our belief that the nation’s fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it for the next generation to solve.”

On November 21, hours before its statutory deadline, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka the “supercommittee,” announced that it could not come to an agreement on a plan to reduce the nation’s deficit. As a result, the clock began ticking on an automatic spending cut that, if enacted, would greatly impact federal spending on education programs.

“After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline,” read a statement by U.S. Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). “Despite our inability to bridge the committee’s significant differences, we end this process united in our belief that the nation’s fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it for the next generation to solve.”

Under a deal struck on August 2 to raise the nation’s debt limit, the supercommittee was created and charged with recommending a plan to reduce the nation’s deficit. A provision triggering automatic across-the-board cuts was included in the debt limit deal with hopes that it would compel the supercommittee to reach an agreement. Because of the supercommittee’s failure, these automatic across-the-board cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over ten years, formally called “sequestration,” will go into effect in January 2013. These cuts will impact both military and domestic spending, including spending on education programs.

According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), spending on nondefense, discretionary spending, including spending on education, is expected to be cut by nearly 8 percent. Based on the $45.39 billion in discretionary funding the U.S. Department of Education received in Fiscal Year 2011, federal spending on education would be reduced by $3.54 billion.1

The Committee for Education Funding (CEF), a coalition of ninety education associations and institutions, projects that the across-the-board cuts would cut Title I by $1.1 billion; special education by $978 million; and career, technical, and adult education by $136 million.

“Across-the-board cuts to education would have a devastating impact on students, particularly those in disadvantaged schools, and lead to tens of thousands of layoffs among our nation’s teachers and other education workers,” said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for education programs.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he was disappointed that the supercommittee failed to reach a final deal, but urged Congress to continue its work to reduce America’s debt in a “thoughtful and deliberate way that protects national priorities like education at such a critical time.”

“Because the supercommittee failed to live up to its responsibility, education programs that affect young Americans across the country now face across-the-board cuts,” Duncan said in a statement. “As a country, we’ve got to start living within our means, just as millions of Americans do each day. It is critical to meet future challenges and provide rising opportunity for future generations.”

The $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts will be split evenly between cuts to defense spending and domestic programs. Although efforts are already underway to limit the impact of these cuts, especially those directed at defense spending, President Obama said he would veto any bill that attempts to do so.

“I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending,” Obama said. “There will be no easy off ramps on this one. We need to keep the pressure up to compromise—not turn off the pressure. The only way these spending cuts will not take place is if Congress gets back to work and agrees on a balanced plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion. That’s exactly what they need to do. That’s the job they promised to do. And they’ve still got a year to figure it out.”

1 Discretionary funding total excludes funding for Pell grants.


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