Anyone keeping an eye on Congress can tell you that they are focused on one thing: the federal budget. Cutting spending is back in vogue, and a possible government shutdown looms if agreement on how much to cut isn't reached soon.

The frustrating thing about discretionary spending cuts is that while they allow members of Congress to issue press releases about doing their part to control government spending and reduce the federal deficit, in truth, it won't get the job done. Discretionary expenditures only account for about 18% of the nation's annual expenditures. That means that the current budget battles going on in Congress aren't even focused on the other 82% of the nation's spending, most of which comes in the form of entitlements. And entitlement reform is a politically sticky issue that most elected officials don't want to touch with a ten-foot pole.

So whether Congress trims $73 billion from discretionary programs or $64 billion or some other number, it will be a drop in the bucket when it comes to actually addressing the federal budget woes. What it will have a HUGE impact on, though, is how Congress chooses to prioritize programs that receive the discretionary funds that will remain. By and large, this means that very few (if any) new programs – however well-intentioned, bipartisan, or worthy – are likely to get funded. I have been in several meetings on the Hill in the past two weeks lobbying for proposed grants programs to educate college students on fire safety (S. 620/H.R. 1199) and help states that enact carbon monoxide detection requirements to fund public education and code enforcement training. The message I hear from staffers is always the same – "it's a great idea, and we don't have any issue with the goal of what you are trying to accomplish, but what does it cost?"

It's all about money these days. And while NEMA tirelessly makes the case for funding for the programs that matter most to our member companies, and will continue to do so, it is likely to remain an uphill battle. Sometimes the baby does get thrown out with the bath water.


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