An eye on budget negotiations

Most of the coverage of Washington has been focused on the Republican agenda to topple Obamacare and the problems with the rollout and unintended effects on current insurance plans. But negotiations are underway that the public should pay attention to.

As part of the deal that ended the 16-day federal government shutdown, a budget conference committee was created. This bipartisan group of 29 lawmakers had its second meeting last week to try to reach a budget deal. The group’s deadline to submit a compromise report for the 2014 budget is Dec. 13. Otherwise, more automatic cuts known as “sequestration” will go into effect.

These cuts would reduce federal agency spending from the current $986 billion to $967 billion. As with the first round of cuts, which adversely affected housing assistance, Head Start, WIC and other programs, millions of Latinos will be among those who will feel the brunt of these cuts.

Stan Collender, a congressional budget expert, said that negotiations —mostly done behind closed doors— and a deal will be tough, partly because Wall Street isn’t urgently calling for any type of action. Therefore, identifying alternatives to the cuts and selling them to the most divided Congress in history is an uphill climb, especially in such a short period of time.

The reality? It’s up to the same group of lawmakers who took the country to the brink of a catastrophe virtually overnight to work as a team to prevent a second government shutdown.

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) urged lawmakers to take into account the priorities of the country’s growing Hispanic community. We join this call for a budget that strengthens the economy without setting up our families to sink.

As they negotiate, lawmakers must consider these and other priorities:

Don’t paralyze social services

Improve investments in the Latino workforce and our small businesses

Invest in our youth through education, community service organizations and job training

Protect safety nets

Let’s not forget that 2014 is an election year and that the Latino vote is our biggest economic asset in these negotiations. Our community has the power to implement our own election “sequester.”