The so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ may have been narrowly avoided in the wee hours of 2013, but the federal judiciary and many other programs are still in the hot seat when it comes to the security of their budgets.
The deal, which raises taxes for individuals and married couples making $400,000 and $450,000 a year, respectively, amounts to little more than a postponement of the true negotiation over automatic budget cuts that still loom as part of the sequestration deal that activates in March.
Reports indicate that the tax hike will only impact the wealthiest 0.6% of the nation, but will also only bring in $600 billion over 10 years, which means a lot of programs will have to face cutbacks or be shuttered altogether. Of course, the federal judiciary won’t go unfunded, but Chief Justice John Roberts recently appealed to elected officials to not cut funding any more than what has already been scheduled.
The federal judiciary is responsible for handling federal cases in their respective districts as well as for the nation, and is made up of hundreds of judges and support staff. The annual budget is now at $7 billion, but experts in the field warn that a failure to revise the 2011 Budget Control Act will result in an 8.2% cost reduction that could throw the country’s judicial branch over its own fiscal cliff.
Even while the Supreme Court often asks for and receives budget decreases in an attempt to make more money available for the judiciary as a whole, many judges aren’t so fiscally conservative. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) recently warned district judges to stop taking expensive and unnecessary trips, one of which was a $1 million judicial conference in Hawaii.
Of all the programs on the chopping block it would seem like the federal judiciary would be one of the last to worry about, but if Congress has shown the American people anything in the last year it’s that no one can predict what it will – or won’t – do.