The government may be back up and running and funded under a short-term continuing resolution (CR), but the battle is far from over as Congress heads toward new deadlines to address budgetary matters. There has been some confusion about what the current budget agreement means in terms of sequestration’s annual cuts to discretionary and mandatory programs instituted in 2012. The law signed by the President to address the short-term continuing resolution and temporarily raise the debt ceiling does not provide federal agencies flexibility to administer new sequestration cuts at this time. With the government spending levels remaining at FY 2013 levels for the duration of the CR, a new round of sequester cuts are not set to kick in until January 2014.
The law established a short-term budget conference committee, with a set deadline of Dec. 13, 2013 to outline recommended spending levels and program cuts. Of note is that the committee deadline is set in advance of when the second year of the sequester will begin. The deadline provides a window of opportunity for the new budget conferees to address how the sequester cuts are applied in FY 2014. The conferees may contemplate making other adjustments to entitlement programs (Medicare and Medicaid) to address health care spending issues that will be negotiated during their deliberations. In addition, Medicare payments to physicians are set to be cut by approximately 25 percent if Congress does not address the cut by December 31, 2013 and offset the cut with a payfor that would likely include cuts to other health care entities. Any of these negotiations and decisions, if ultimately accepted by Congress, could impact the size of the Medicare sequester cuts in January FY 2014.