July 30, 2014

A Case Study on Discretionary Spending Cuts

  • The federal budget is an expression of our country's values. Where we choose to spend and at what levels, how and who we tax, and the borrowing we...

As the country celebrated the new year, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts completed a holiday tradition of his own by calling for more funding for the judicial system.

“The budget remains the single most important issue facing the courts,” he wrote in his 2013 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary. Sequestration last year cut judiciary funding by nearly $350 million, which came on top of “significant cost reductions” the courts had already made in previous years.

“We in the judiciary recognize what should be clear to all: The nation needs a balanced financial ledger to remain strong at home and abroad,” Roberts wrote.

But he said the judicial branch had been hit particularly hard by sequestration for a variety of reasons -- including constitutional and statutory requirements that must be met. Court staffs, he said, have declined to their lowest level since 1997 even as caseloads continue to increase.

The judiciary is funded through the “discretionary” part of the budget where Congress has focused most of its deficit-reduction efforts. While discretionary funds should be spent wisely, Congress also needs to look at other parts of the federal budget, including entitlement programs and hidden spending in the tax code.