Will the failure of the so-called "Super Committee" to come up with a plan to cut the federal deficit trigger automatic spending cuts in federal agencies like OSHA, MSHA and NIOSH?
That's the trillion dollar question, according to Aaron K. Trippler, Government Affairs Director for the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).
The bipartisan committee was tasked with identifying $1.2 trilllion in spending cuts over the next decade.
"Of course the committee failed in its effort," said Trippler in his monthly "Happenings From the Hill" report. "Republicans on the committee wanted to cut more spending and have fewer tax increases, Democrats wanted to increase taxes and have fewer spending cuts. Sound familiar?"
Trippler said that if the automatic spending cuts went into effect, all federal agencies except Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would have 10% cut from their budgets. Alternatively, Congress could change the law that requires these cuts.
Finally -- and Trippler thinks this is the most likely scenario -- Congress could delay taking any action on the cuts until after the 2012 election, since the cuts aren't scheduled to go into effect until 2013.
"Congress will again 'pass the buck' until after the election, so no one has to face the voters with questions about specific cuts," he predicted.
As for the 2012 budget, which was supposed to go into effect October 1 but remains largely unresolved, Trippler said he expects Congress to place the nine appropriations bills which have not yet been enacted into one large "omnibus" bill. Although this bill will contain spending caps for each agency, the spending level will probably stay the same.
"I doubt they will look closely at agencies such as OSHA and NIOSH for any cuts," said Trippler. "That may be good news for both, especially NIOSH! Spending for the Education Research Centers would likely remain intact for 2012 unless the omnibus bill would contain specific language cutting these funds."