Education, agriculture, and environmental programs could soon be exposed to massive cuts.

Federal education spending could be slashed up to 8 percent in 2013 if lawmakers can’t agree on debt-reducing measures soon, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Failure by Congress’ debt-cutting supercommittee to recommend $1.2 trillion in savings by Nov. 23 is supposed to automatically trigger spending cuts in the same amount to accomplish that job.

Still, the same legislators who concocted that budgetary booby trap just four months ago could end up spending the 2012 election year and beyond battling to defuse it.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., say they are writing legislation to prevent what they say would be devastating cuts to the military. House Republicans are exploring a similar move. Democrats maintain they won’t let domestic programs be the sole source of budget savings.

In the face of those efforts, President Barack Obama has told the debt panel’s co-chairmen that he “will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off the automatic cut trigger,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters last week.

The leaders of both parties in the House and Senate have expressed similar sentiments—seemingly making any attempt to restore the money futile.

“Yes, I would feel bound by it,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said recently of the automatic cuts. “It was part of the agreement.”

But that doesn’t mean rank-and-file lawmakers won’t try to block the cuts, or that viewpoints might not change if the right deal is offered—especially in the hothouse atmosphere of next year’s presidential and congressional campaign or its aftermath.

With nearly $500 billion in defense spending and an equal amount of domestic dollars at stake, plenty of lawmakers are ready to try blocking all or parts of those automatic cuts, if only to win favor from backers of programs whose funds are on the chopping block.

“I have no doubt that there will be efforts to turn it off,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “Never underestimate the willingness of politicians to try to avoid making some of the hard choices.”


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