U.S. Rep. Sander Levin warns against cuts in mental health

Feb 3, 2013

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin warns that Congress’ current path toward cuts in mental health research stands in contrast to national support for blocking the emotionally deranged from gaining access to guns.

The impending automatic, “sequester” cuts on Congress’ agenda would exacerbate a trend in which only one in six requests for grants from the medical community currently receive approval from the National Institutes of Health. For the National Institutes of Mental Health, the news is much worse: less than 5 percent of funding requests are granted.

“If we’re going to rely only on spending” to reduce the deficit, “that would have a major impact on programs such as NIH,” said Levin in an interview with The Macomb Daily “With … so much emphasis on gun control and mental health issues of late, to have such a drop in funding in child development and mental health is very worrisome.”

The sequester cuts would require a $1 trillion reduction in federal spending, over 10 years, that would chop funding mostly from the Defense Department and a wide array of “discretionary funding” – everything from food stamps to national parks to border patrols.

Levin, a Royal Oak Democrat who represents most of Macomb County, concedes that he’s biased toward NIH funding because his deceased wife and his new wife both spent much of their life working for the agency. But the congressman said NIH is one of many valuable, underfunded programs that could take a big hit if the sequestration process is initiated in March.

Levin predicts a “50-50” chance that the across-the-board sequester cuts will take effect, in part because of a Congress sharply divided along partisan lines.

At the same time, the veteran lawmaker worries about defense cuts that, if prolonged, could have an impact on Macomb County’s hundreds of defense contractors. If the sequester cuts stand as a long-term approach, the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township should be safe but the M1A1 battle tank program run by Sterling Heights-based General Dynamics Land Systems could be in jeopardy.

In addition, Levin, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, bristles at the possibility that House Republicans will accepts tax reforms that would reduce basic deductions for middle class families such as tax breaks for mortgage interest costs, charitable deductions, and state and local taxes.

Proposals calling for the elimination of corporate tax breaks also frustrate Levin because certain tax credits are a big advantage for southeast Michigan manufacturers.

Yet, political observers warn that an all-out debate on Capitol Hill over tax breaks and federal spending, with partisan and geographic differences coming to the fore, could result in gridlock. Overall, Levin said cuts in roads and infrastructure projects or basic higher education programs such as Pell grants would be counterproductive.

“I think it will depend on what programs you want to cut,” Levin said. “I’m in favor of preserving funding for economic development and education and basic-needs programs. You have to pick and choose.”