What Political Gridlock and Disinvestment Really Mean for America

Farmer stands in middle of the fieldEarlier this week, members of Congress observed Memorial Day in their home states and districts. Meanwhile, advocates for programs funded through non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending remain concerned about the country’s political and economic outlook.

“Non-defense discretionary spending” is such a wonky term that it can lose its meaning during the process. In an effort to address this common reaction, a group of 3,200 concerned organizations (NDDUnited), which includes Goodwill, has produced a short video about NDD and why it matters.

The video notes that NDD represents just 15 percent of the nation’s annual spending; yet every day, people of all income levels and walks of life benefit from the investments. The first responders who protect us, the schools that educate our children, the food we eat, the roads we drive on, the training our workers need, the parks we enjoy: all of these are core public services that are supported by this type of spending.

Fueled by concerns about our unsustainable deficit, policymakers have reduced the federal investment in these core services by about $900 billion in the past few years. Most recently, automatic spending cuts, often referred to as “sequestration,” were allowed to take effect in March.

While the media recently cast a blinding spotlight on sequestration’s potential to affect air travel, its effects on other core services have not received a great deal of attention because of their incremental implementation. However, parks will operate on reduced hours; roads will receive less maintenance; fewer teachers will be available; and job seekers will have less help finding employment.

The current forecast remains bleak. As it has done for several years, it appears that Congress will be unable to complete its annual budget and appropriations work, and will be unwilling to genuinely consider changes to the tax code and mandatory spending. These areas represent approximately two-thirds of our nation’s budget, compared to NDD’s 15 percent.

Instead, under threats of a government shutdown and/or debt default, Congress is almost certain to shortcut the budget and appropriations process, and the trend of disinvestment is likely to continue. In the meantime, businesses, workers, and service providers such as Goodwill – who do not have such shortcuts to complete work despite gridlock – are struggling to plan for a very uncertain future.

How have you and your community been affected by gridlock and disinvestment? How are you addressing the impact? Please leave a comment and let us know.