Budget Control Act of 2011

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Budget Control Act of 2011
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn Act to provide for budget control.
Enacted bythe 112th United States Congress
EffectiveAugust 2, 2011
Public lawPub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 112–25 (text) (PDF)
Statutes at Large125 Stat. 239
Acts amendedBalanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985
Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974
Deficit Reduction Act of 2005
Titles amended2 U.S.C.: Congress
U.S.C. sections amended2 U.S.C. ch. 20 § 901
Legislative history

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 112–25 (text) (PDF), S. 365, 125 Stat. 240, enacted August 2, 2011) is a federal statute enacted by the 112th United States Congress and signed into law by US President Barack Obama on August 2, 2011. The Act brought conclusion to the 2011 US debt-ceiling crisis.

The law involves the introduction of several complex mechanisms, such as creation of the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (sometimes called the "super committee"),[1] options for a balanced budget amendment, and automatic budget sequestration.


Debt ceiling:

  • The debt ceiling was increased by $400 billion immediately.[2]
  • The President could request a further increase of $500 billion, which is subject to a congressional motion of disapproval which the President may veto, in which case a two-thirds majority in Congress would be needed to override the veto.[3] This has been called the 'McConnell mechanism' after the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who first suggested it as part of another scheme.[4]
  • The President could request a final increase of $1.2–1.5 trillion, subject to the same disapproval procedure. The exact amount depends on the amount of cuts in the "super committee" plan if it passes Congress, and whether a Balanced budget amendment has been sent to the states.[3]

Deficit reduction:

  • Spending was reduced more than the increase in the debt limit. No tax increases or other forms of increases in revenue above current law were included in the bill.[5]
  • The bill directly specified $917 billion of cuts over 10 years in exchange for the initial debt limit increase of $900 billion.[5] This is the first installment ("tranche") of cuts. $21 billion of this will be applied in the FY2012 budget.[4]
  • Additionally, the agreement established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, sometimes called the "super committee",[1] to produce deficit reduction legislation by November 23, 2011, that would be immune from amendments or filibuster (similar to the Base Realignment and Closure).[4][6] The goal of the legislation was to cut at least $1.5 trillion over the coming 10 years and be passed by December 23, 2011.[6] Projected revenue from the committee's legislation could not exceed the revenue budgeting baseline produced by current law. (Current law had the Bush tax cuts expiring at the end of 2012.) The committee would have 12 members, 6 from each party.[5]
  • The agreement also specified an incentive for Congress to act. If Congress failed to produce a deficit reduction bill with at least $1.2 trillion in cuts, then Congress could grant a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling but this would trigger across-the-board cuts ("sequestrations"[note 1]), as of January 2, 2013.[3] These cuts would apply to mandatory and discretionary spending in the years 2013 to 2021 and be in an amount equal to the difference between $1.2 trillion and the amount of deficit reduction enacted from the joint committee. There would be some exemptions: reductions would apply to Medicare providers, but not to Social Security, Medicaid, civil and military employee pay, or veterans.[4][5] Medicare benefits would be limited to a 2% reduction.[7]
As originally envisioned, these caps would equally affect security and non-security programs. Security programs would include the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Nuclear Security Administration, some management functions of the intelligence community and international affairs from the U.S. State Department.[8] However, because the Joint Select Committee did not report any legislation to Congress, the act reset these caps to defense (essentially the DOD) and non-defense categories.[9] This became one of the important elements of the fiscal cliff.[10]

Balanced Budget Amendment:

  • Congress was required to vote on a balanced budget amendment between October 1, 2011, and the end of 2011,[3] but is not required to pass it and send it to the states in order for the debt limit increases to occur. (This is unlike the previously proposed Cut, Cap and Balance Act, which was not enacted, which would have required Congress to actually pass such an amendment).[4]

Other provisions:

  • Pell Grant funding was increased, but other financial aid was cut. Graduate and professional students were no longer eligible for interest subsidized loans.[11] Repayment incentives will also be done away with after July 1, 2012.[12]
  • Section 106 of the Budget Control Act amends the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 to provide a two-year Senate budget, adopting in law what would usually be a Concurrent Resolution. Senate Budget Committee Chairman explains in this video.

Legislative history[edit]

Vice President Biden shook hands and congratulated President Obama immediately after a call between the president and Speaker Boehner in which they reached a deal for the Budget Control Act, July 31, 2011.
House vote by congressional district.
  Democratic yea
  Democratic nay
  Republican yea
  Republican nay
  Absent or no representative seated

The bill was the final chance in a series of proposals to resolve the 2011 United States debt-ceiling crisis, which featured bitter divisions between the parties and also pronounced splits within them. Earlier ideas included the Obama-Boehner $4 trillion "Grand Bargain",[13] the House Republican Cut, Cap and Balance Act, and the McConnell-Reid "Plan B" fallback. All eventually failed to gain enough general political or specific Congressional support to move into law, as the midnight August 2, 2011, deadline for an unprecedented U.S. sovereign default drew nearer and nearer.[14]

The solution came from White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, who, on July 12, 2011, proposed a compulsory trigger that would go into effect if another agreement was not made on tax increases and/or budget cuts equal to or greater than the debt ceiling increase by a future date.

Ultimately, the intent of the sequester was to secure the commitment of both sides to future negotiation by means of an enforcement mechanism that would be unpalatable to Republicans and Democrats alike. President Obama agreed to the plan. House Speaker John Boehner expressed reservations, but also agreed.[15]

On July 26, 2011, White House Budget Director Jack Lew and White House Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to discuss the plan. Reid, like Boehner several days before, was initially opposed to the idea, but was eventually convinced to go along with it, with the understanding that the sequester was intended as an enforcement tool rather than a true budget proposal.[16]

On the evening of July 31, 2011, Obama announced that the leaders of both parties in both chambers had reached an agreement that would reduce the deficit and avoid default.[6] The same day, Speaker of the House John Boehner's office outlined the agreement for House Republicans.[17] One key element in the deal being reached and the logjam being broken earlier that afternoon was U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's ability to negotiate with his 25-year Senate colleague, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.[18][19][20] Biden had spent the most time bargaining with Congress on the debt question of anyone in the administration, and McConnell had viewed him as the one most trustworthy.[18][19]

"Passed with amendment by recorded vote"[21]
Vote by party Yea Nay NV Total
Democrats 95 95 3 193
Republicans 174 66 0 240
Total 269 161 3 433

House vote[edit]

The House passed the Budget Control Act[1] on August 1, 2011, by a vote of 269–161. 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted for it, while 66 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted against it.[14]

"Agreed in the House amendment to the bill by Yea-Nay Vote"[22]
Vote by party Yea Nay NV Total
Democrats 45 6 0 51
Republicans 28 19 0 47
Independents 1 1 0 2
Total 74 26 0 100

House Speaker Boehner then announced that he got "98% of what I wanted" in the deal.

Senate vote[edit]

Senate vote by state.
  Both yes
  One yes, one didn't vote
  One yes, one no
  One no, one didn't vote
  Both no

The Senate passed the Act on August 2, 2011, by a vote of 74–26. 6 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted against it.[23]

Presidential signature[edit]

President Obama signed the bill shortly after it was passed by the Senate.[14] In doing so, the president said, "Is this the deal I would have preferred? No. But this compromise does make a serious down payment on the deficit reduction we need, and gives each party a strong incentive to get a balanced plan done before the end of the year."[13]

President Obama publicly announced the debt ceiling deal on the evening of July 31, 2011; Congress began voting on it the next day.

Contingent votes[edit]

The Budget Control Act immediately raised the debt limit to $14.694 trillion. In October 2011, the president requested the $500 billion increase, to $15.194 trillion. A motion in the Senate to block it failed 45–52, so the increase was approved.

On November 18, 2011, the Balanced Budget Amendment failed to advance in the House: 261–165,[24] 23 votes short of the needed 2/3 majority.[25] On December 14, 2011, two proposed Balanced Budget Amendments failed in the Senate, 21–79 and 47–53.[26]

On November 21, 2011, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction announced that it was not able to advance any legislation to the full Congress, issuing a statement that began with the following: "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."[27]

In January 2012, the U.S. debt hit the new limit of $15.194 trillion and the treasury began using extraordinary measures once again. The President requested the final increase, to $16.394 trillion. On January 18, 2012, the House passed a disapproval of the second debt limit increase by a vote of 239–176. The measure failed to pass the Senate and the debt limit was raised accordingly on January 27.[28]

Projected and known impacts[edit]

Congressional passage of the bill gave President Obama the chance to sign the Budget Control Act into law, which he did on August 2, 2011.

The act will not actually reduce the nominal U.S. debt over the 10-year period. But it will reduce the real (inflation adjusted) growth of the debt, by reducing real Federal spending (the amount of spending with inflation included). However, every plan will increase or keep constant nominal spending.[13] That is partly because the cuts due to the act will not reduce federal spending in contemporary dollars, but rather reduce the year-to-year increases in spending from what had previously been anticipated.[2] Even with the slowdown, both federal spending and the debt were still projected to grow faster than the U.S. economy, due to the cost curve effects of health care, which the act does not address.[13] However, it is hoped that an independent cost-cutting board created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will begin to reduce per capita health spending once it is implemented in 2014.

The debate on the bill was driven by the Republicans' insistence on spending cuts as their condition for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling. This raised concern because of the relationship between aggregate demand and unemployment; as Patrick Lunsford, Senior Editor of insideARM.com stated in a Forbes magazine blog, "when government spending is slashed, jobs are lost and consumer demand falls."[29] In analyzing the specific bill that emerged, the Economic Policy Institute stated, "The spending cuts in 2013 and the failure to continue two key supports to the economy (the payroll tax holiday and emergency unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed) could lead to roughly 1.8 million fewer jobs in 2013, relative to current budget policy."[30] Most of the $900 billion in the first tranche of cuts occur in future years and so will not remove significant aggregate demand from the economy in the current and following year.[4] Only $25 billion in federal discretionary spending is required to be removed for 2012.[2] Regarding the across-the-board cuts, these will take effect on January 2, 2013, unless the Republicans in the US House can agree on a substitute with the Democratic president and US Senate.[4]

Passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011 was not enough to avert, three days later, Standard & Poor's downgrading the nation's credit rating for the first time in the firm's history, from "AAA" (highest) to "AA+" (second highest).[31] They said they were "pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics anytime soon."[31] (The United States Department of the Treasury pointed out an error of $2 trillion in Standard & Poor's calculation of the ten-year deficit reduction under the Act, and commented, "The magnitude of this mistake – and the haste with which S&P changed its principal rationale for action when presented with this error – raise fundamental questions about the credibility and integrity of S&P’s ratings action."[32]) S&P has partially disputed this claim of error, arguing that it is not as substantial as the Department of the Treasury is asserting, stating, "In taking a longer term horizon of 10 years, the U.S. net general government debt level with the current assumptions would be $20.1 trillion (85% of 2021 GDP). With the original assumptions, the debt level was projected to be $22.1 trillion (93% of 2021 GDP)." They further state that they used a spending inflation rate of only 5 percent in their calculations which is actually lower than the 7 percent spending inflation rate the Budget Control Act of 2011 assumes.[33] While the other two credit rating agencies (Fitch and Moody) kept the U.S. rating at AAA, they did change the rating outlook from "stable" to "negative".

2012 election and layoff impacts[edit]

A 1988 Federal law requires most United States employers with 100 or more employees to provide sixty- (60) calendar-day advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs of employees. With the scheduled sequestration reductions in Federal spending required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 due to take effect on January 2, 2013, several U.S. companies with large Federal contracts began to publicly discuss in the summer of 2012 the required layoffs that would be required to bring their workforce into line with the reductions in Federal spending.[34]

A 394-page White House report was issued in mid-September outlining the billions of dollars in cuts that would be required in January 2013 unless U.S. law is changed prior to January 2, 2013.[35]

Some companies have publicly stated that they would not send out the required notices, based on White House assurances, despite no change to the underlying Federal law. In October 2012, Lockheed Martin announced that they would not send out Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act letters in 2012 in anticipation of sequestration cuts.[36] Additionally, in September 2012, the Obama Administration, released a report stating that sequestration is a bad policy, and that Congress can and should take action to avoid it by passing a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction package. [37]

Defense sequestration[edit]

After several months of denying that they could or would plan for the implementation of sequestration cuts, the Department of Defense finally began such planning in December 2012, with less than one month to go.[38][39] The nature of the budget cuts have had the most significant impact on Operations and Maintenance (O&M) accounts, particularly for the training and readiness of combat units during their "at home" cycle between overseas deployments. For example, as of April 17, 2016, out of 276 F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters in the U.S. Marine Corps inventory, only about 30% are ready to fly, according to statistics provided by the Marine Corps. Similarly, only 42 of 147 heavy-lift CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters are airworthy.[40]

Later developments[edit]

The start of the sequestration was delayed from January 2, 2013, to March 1, 2013, by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which was passed by both houses of Congress on January 1, 2013, as a partial resolution to the fiscal cliff crisis.[41] The bill also lowered the sequestration cap for 2014 to offset the two-month delay in 2013. Also, for 2013 only, certain "security" funding such as homeland security and international affairs were included in the sequestration cut in order to lessen the cuts to defense.[42]

In December 2013, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 increased the sequestration caps for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 by $45 billion and $18 billion, respectively,[43] in return for extending the imposition of the cuts to mandatory spending into 2022 and 2023, and miscellaneous savings elsewhere in the budget.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The sequestration mechanism would be the same as what was used before in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.


  1. ^ a b c "Debt-Ceiling Deal: President Obama Signs Bill as Next Fight Looms". ABC News. August 2, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c Yeh, Richard; Hamilton, Alec (August 3, 2011). "Explainer: The Debt Deal – What Happens Next and What's on the Chopping Block?". WNYC. Archived from the original on August 7, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d "Budget Control Act (BCA) to impact federal spending". American Soybean Association. Southeast Farm Press. August 8, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Mascaro, Lisa; Hennessey, Kathleen (July 31, 2011). "U.S. leaders strike debt deal to avoid default". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ a b c d Nazworth, Napp (August 3, 2011). "Keeping Score: Debt Limit Winners and Losers". The Christian Post.
  6. ^ a b c DeFrank, Thomas (July 31, 2011). "President Obama says Republican, Dem leaders have reached agreement with him to raise debt ceiling". Daily News.
  7. ^ Congressional Budget Office staff (October 26, 2011). "CBO Testimony Discretionary Spending". Congressional Budget Office. pp. 15, 16. Retrieved August 15, 2012.
  8. ^ Farrell Jr., Lawrence P. (September 2011). "Budget Control Act of 2011 Forces Real Cuts to Defense, and Difficult Choices". National Defense. Archived from the original on March 19, 2012. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  9. ^ Blom, Barry (March 2012). "An Analysis of the President's 2013 Budget". Congressional Budget Office. Page 13, footnote 17. Retrieved August 2, 2012. ...because the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction did not report legislation to reduce the deficit, the caps were reset to cover defense and nondefense programs...
  10. ^ Koba, Mark (October 22, 2012). "What Is the 'Fiscal Cliff'?". CNBC.com. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  11. ^ Levy, Gabrielle (August 1, 2011). "Debt-limit deal increases funding for Pell Grants". The Sacramento Bee. Medill News Service.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ Rush, Alexa (August 18, 2011). "Budget deal alters loans for grad students". University Daily Kansan. Archived from the original on March 25, 2012.
  13. ^ a b c d Applebaum, Binyamin (August 2, 2011). "Spending Cuts Seen as Step, Not as Cure". The New York Times.
  14. ^ a b c "Obama Signs Debt-Ceiling Plan Hours Before Deadline". Fox News Channel. August 2, 2011.
  15. ^ Woodward, Bob. The Price of Politics, Simon & Schuster, 2012. Page 215
  16. ^ Woodward, Bob. The Price of Politics, Simon & Schuster, 2012. Page 326
  17. ^ "Boehner's Debt Ceiling Agreement Presentation". The New York Times. July 31, 2011.
  18. ^ a b Thrush, Glenn; Brown, Carrie Budoff; Raju, Manu; Bresnahan, John (August 2, 2011). "Joe Biden, Mitch McConnell and the making of a debt deal". Politico.
  19. ^ a b "The real drama was in private as debt deal hatched". Boston Herald. Associated Press. August 3, 2011.
  20. ^ Bohan, Caren Bohan; Sullivan, Andy; Ferraro, Thomas (August 3, 2011). "Special report: How Washington took the U.S. to the brink". Reuters. Archived from the original on August 14, 2013. Retrieved June 30, 2017.
  21. ^ Roll call vote 690, via Clerk.House.gov
  22. ^ Roll call vote 123, via Senate.gov
  23. ^ Thorp, Frank (August 2, 2011). "Senate passes debt deal, 74–26". MSNBC. Archived from the original on November 23, 2011.
  24. ^ Roll call vote 858, via Clerk.House.gov
  25. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer; Pear, Robert (November 19, 2011). "As Deadline Nears, Deficit Panel Is Still at Deep Impasse". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
  26. ^ Southall, Ashley (December 14, 2011). "Balanced Budget Amendments Fall Short in the Senate". The New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2011.
  27. ^ "Statement from Co-Chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction". deficitreduction.gov. November 21, 2011. Archived from the original on January 14, 2012. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  28. ^ Walsh, Deirdre; Cohan, Tom (January 18, 2012). "House 'disapproves' debt ceiling hike". CNN. Retrieved January 19, 2012.
  29. ^ Lunsford, Patrick (August 3, 2011). "Government Spending is Our Only Friend; We Need to Make New Ones". Forbes.
  30. ^ Irons, John S. (August 1, 2011). "What's missing from the debt ceiling debate? Jobs". Economic Policy Institute.
  31. ^ a b "S&P downgrades U.S. debt". CBS News. August 5, 2011.
  32. ^ Bellows, John (August 6, 2011). "Just the Facts: S&P's $2 Trillion Mistake". United States Department of the Treasury. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
  33. ^ Calabresi, Massimo (August 6, 2011). "Standard & Poor's Embarrassing U.S. Debt Downgrade". Time.
  34. ^ "Dramatic cuts in military spending are beginning to take a toll on defense jobs". Wall Street Journal. August 2, 2012. Retrieved October 21, 2012.
  35. ^ Jonathan, Weisman (September 14, 2012). "White House Details Potential Effects If Automatic Budget Cuts Go Through". New York Times. Retrieved October 21, 2012.
  36. ^ Fryer-Biggs, Zachary. "Lockheed: No Sequestration Layoff Notices This Year." Defense News, 1 October 2012.
  37. ^ Bowman, Andrew; Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP (September 14, 2012). "Breaking – White House Releases Sequestration Report". The National Law Review.
  38. ^ "DoD Not Making Plans for Sequester Cuts."
  39. ^ "Defense Department Prepares Plans for Sequestration."
  40. ^ Tomlinson, Lucas (April 17, 2016). "Budget cuts leaving Marine Corps aircraft grounded | Fox News". Fox News. Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  41. ^ Weisman, Jonathan (January 1, 2013). "Senate Passes Legislation to Allow Taxes on Affluent to Rise". The New York Times.
  42. ^ Friedman, Joel; Kogan, Richard; Parrott, Sharon (September 18, 2013). "Clearing Up Misunderstandings: Sequestration Would Not Be Tougher on Defense Than Non-Defense Programs in 2014". Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
  43. ^ Desjardins, Lisa (December 10, 2013). "The budget deal in plain English". CNN. Retrieved December 11, 2013.
  44. ^ "Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013". Congressional Budget Office. December 11, 2013. Retrieved December 19, 2013.

External links[edit]