Senate Democrats said Fiscal Responsibility Act caps could mean sharp personnel reductions for some non-defense agencies.

Senate Democrats said Fiscal Responsibility Act caps could mean sharp personnel reductions for some non-defense agencies. Win McNamee / Getty Images

Dems warn of agency furloughs, layoffs if spending caps are not lifted

FBI agents, meat inspectors and others could face job cuts under the current fiscal 2025 spending plan, Democrats say.

Senate Democrats are ramping up their push for additional funding for non-defense agencies in fiscal 2025, saying the current spending caps would have drastic impacts on federal operations and force some components to shed staff. 

Under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the measure President Biden signed into law last year after negotiating with House Republicans to raise the debt ceiling, both defense and non-defense spending is set to increase by 1%. Members of both parties have already labeled that small bump as insufficient for the Pentagon, while Democrats are looking for guarantees that any increase above the FRA caps would be matched with equal growth for domestic agencies. 

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, has yet to reach an agreement with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the committee’s top Republican, on exactly how much funding their panel will allocate in fiscal 2025. Ahead of such an agreement, Murray is warning of the consequences some agencies could face without a larger budget. 

The National Park Service would see reduced staffing and services at least, Murray said, and could experience a “rolling shutdown” of parks. The agency has struggled with staffing shortfalls for more than a decade. 

The Justice Department could see its staffing slashed by 4,800 positions, Murray said in a fact sheet laying out the potential impacts of a 1% funding boost across government, including attorneys and 1,350 FBI agents. The Agriculture Department’s Food Safety Inspection Service could face layoffs, which would cause a meat shortage across the country. A scheduled hiring surge to bring thousands of additional air traffic controllers and other staff to the Federal Aviation Administration would be put at risk, Murray added. 

Federal firefighters would face pay cuts after only recently earning an increase, which Murray and her colleagues said would devastate recruiting and retention efforts. The National Institute of Standards and Technology would face furloughs or layoffs, they added. 

“Over a quarter of the Forest Service’s wildland firefighting jobs are vacant, and unless we provide funding to save our firefighters from a pay cut, these vacancies will only get worse,” Murray said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “This is the very definition of a ‘must have,’ not a ‘nice to have’ kind of investment.”

At the Social Security Administration, committee Democrats warned, offices could close or stay open for fewer hours each day. As funding from the 21st Century Cures Act runs dry, they said, the National Institutes of Health would have to curb its research efforts and its National Cancer Institute would offer 200 fewer grants next fiscal year. NASA would have to further delay some of its upcoming missions, they cautioned. 

“More cuts is exactly what a 1 percent cap actually means,” Murray said on Tuesday. “Not ‘treading water.’ Not ‘keeping up’—a one percent cap means pain. It means we let families down.”

She reiterated her call for any increase to defense spending to be matched at non-defense agencies. Her committee has yet to unveil any of its 12 annual must-pass funding bills for fiscal 2025, though it will hold its first markup on July 8. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has already rejected Murray’s call for funding parity and House Republicans are so far moving bills that do not even meet the debt limit deal’s small increases. Republicans in the lower chamber are ignoring parts of the deal they struck with Biden last year and instead proposing an average cut of 6% to domestic agencies. 

The House Appropriations Committee has already approved six spending bills for fiscal 2025 and the full chamber has advanced one—with all votes occurring largely along party lines—which quickly drew a veto threat from Biden.

Murray suggested the FRA caps, which essentially froze spending at federal agencies in fiscal 2024, is already causing “serious pain and serious challenges” across government. Ongoing inflation and a host of new challenges will exacerbate those issues if they only receive a 1% increase next fiscal year, she said.  

She and Collins worked closely in drafting bills last year and their proposals won broad bipartisan support in the committee. Murray said she is still hoping to see a similar process this year.