If you’re looking for where the action in the 118th Congress will occur, look no further than the federal budget. Some of the most contentious and consequential policy decisions emerging from Capitol Hill this year will center on federal spending decisions.
The federal budget is a moral document that makes clear our priorities as a nation. Where we allocate resources says everything about what and whom we value.
Determining how a nation spends its money may not sound exciting, but the process is about much more than numbers. The federal budget is a moral document that makes clear our priorities as a country. Where we allocate resources says everything about what and whom we value.
That’s why the voice of FCNL’s network is needed in the budget debates, now and in the coming months. While many businesses and corporate interests concern themselves with only the economic implications of spending decisions and how they impact growth or benefit their bottom line, we are keeping a careful eye on how these decisions will bring us closer to—or drive us further from—the just and peaceful world we seek.
We anticipate two significant decision points for our priorities in the coming months. First, Congress will act to raise the debt ceiling, likely sometime this summer. Secondly, lawmakers will pass bills to fund the government before Oct. 1.
Debt Ceiling Showdown Looms
Already tensions are running high. Some members of Congress have threatened to hold the full faith and credit of the United States—and consequentially the global economy—hostage as part of the fight to raise the federal borrowing limit. They intend to use the debt ceiling debate to leverage severe spending cuts, putting some of FCNL’s top priorities and policies we have advocated for years in jeopardy.
Failing to raise the debt limit could trigger a global recession. Some House Republicans see this as an opportunity to leverage massive cuts to spending on services millions of Americans depend on every day.
The debt ceiling is an arbitrary legal limit that defines how much the U.S. Treasury can borrow. Congress sets this number. It has no relation to the government’s ability to pay its bills or what the economy can sustain. Importantly, raising the limit does not impact federal spending or borrowing. It simply allows the government to pay for programs and services that Congress already approved and spent money on.
Why, then, are some in Congress objecting to raising the borrowing limit? Essentially because the limit must be raised—failing to do so threatens our credit and could trigger a global recession. Because lawmakers must act to avoid this catastrophic outcome, some House Republicans see this as an opportunity to leverage massive cuts to spending on services millions of Americans depend on every day.
It is unacceptable to gamble with our nation’s future this way. Congress must not cave to these threats. Instead, legislators should act swiftly to raise the borrowing limit without conditions.
Spending Bills Offer Another High Stakes Decision Point
Before Oct. 1, Congress will have to pass legislation either to fund government programs or pass a “continuing resolution.” A CR allows Congress to sustain funding at current levels until they can resolve spending disputes. If Congress fails to enact all 12 spending bills and cannot pass a continuing resolution, a government shutdown results.
The same members of Congress holding hostage the debt ceiling are also threatening to shut down the government unless they see significant spending cuts.
How major would these cuts be? By some estimates, anywhere from 9% to more than 24%. Reductions on this scale could be devastating for many of the programs we care about, especially if lawmakers seek to protect the Pentagon budget from any cuts and require safety net programs to absorb them instead.
Our country and world have serious needs right now. Rather than implementing harsh and indiscriminate cuts to the federal budget, Congress must act urgently to invest money where it is needed most.
Our country and world have serious needs right now. Rather than implementing harsh and indiscriminate cuts to the federal budget, Congress must act urgently to invest money where it is needed most. This includes putting resources towards addressing the climate crisis and supporting countries in environmental adaptation and mitigation efforts; investing in peacebuilding to prevent the start of new conflicts and mass atrocities; and working to prevent gun violence and strengthen communities through violence interruption programs.
Each program costs a tiny amount in the scheme of the whole federal budget. Still, they—along with the programs that help feed, house, and sustain our most vulnerable neighbors—have a massive impact on the lives of individuals and the health of our economy. If lawmakers are genuinely concerned about reducing federal spending, there are better places to trim. Instead, they might look to the bloated Pentagon budget.
Opportunities and Reasons for Hope
The challenges ahead of us are clear, but there are reasons to be hopeful. Despite the threats, in a divided Congress, the work of appropriating funding eventually must get done. In those moments, there are sometimes opportunities to seize small wins bipartisanly, especially for programs that receive less public attention and can fly under the radar. Most of the programs FCNL advocates for have a history of bipartisan support, and we continue to work to build up congressional champions to advance our concerns.
In the coming weeks and months, your voice could play an important role as members of Congress make significant decisions about the values and priorities of our country. Our lobbyists will be carefully tracking the fiscal year 2024 budget and appropriation process to protect essential government programs from cuts and shepherd bipartisan investments to advance peace and justice, protect the earth, and ensure the dignity of all people.
This resource was originally written in February 2023, and has been updated.