What’s Behind the Sequestration?
What seemed like a far-fetched possibility only months ago now seems
almost inevitable: Like a train hurdling down the tracks without an engineer at the throttle, sequestration—staggering cuts across the board—is set to go
into effect on March 1, 2013.
Politicians from both major corporate parties join in denouncing the
potentially harmful effects of sequestration. But no solution has emerged as of
this writing as a way of averting it.
So how did all this come to be and specifically what can we expect if
sequestration is at last implemented?
Turn the clock back to August, 2011 when the country was on the brink of
default, which, we were told, unless addressed would result in bankruptcy,
with Washington no longer able to pay its debts. The reality then (and now)
was and is that the U.S. is in a deep-seated economic crisis. The way to
resolve it in the minds of the corporate class is austerity measures that
would cut wages and benefits in both the private and public sectors, thus
placing the burden on-low-and middle-income earners, while the super wealthy
reap ever greater profits and an accelerated accumulation of wealth.
In short, the August, 2011 crisis was a manufactured one, designed to
convince the public that the spiraling deficit and debt were at the heart of
the problem and that, if not addressed, the country would go to hell in a
handbasket. Rejecting such measures as recapturing the trillions given the
banks and investment houses through the bailouts, closing the tax loopholes, a
transactional tax on the buying and selling of stocks and bonds, or
slashing the bloated Pentagon budget, the bipartisans turned instead to enacting
on August 2 the Budget Control Act of 2011 (only one day before the U.S.
would have been in default), which included the sequestration feature.
The goal was to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years.
A Super Committee of 12—consisting of six Democrats and six Republicans—
was charged with coming up with an agreement to achieve that result by
November 23, 2011. Under the Budget Control Act, their failure to do so by
that deadline would trigger the sequestration to take effect the beginning of
2013 (a date later moved to March 1). Half of the cuts would come from
domestic programs, the other half from the military.
All 12 members of this vaunted Super Committee declared themselves in
favor of cutting “entitlements,” which we refer to as earned income. But the
Democrats conditioned this on raising revenue as well (a “balanced”
approach), while Republicans categorically rejected that idea. Implementation of
sequestration was kicked down the road until now, March 1, 2013, with little
or no prospect for further delay. So if it happens, $85 billion in cuts will
be drained from the government’s budget over the coming seven months, half
of that from domestic programs.
Here is specifically what sequestration will cause, according to The New
York Times and other studies:
- Reduction by 2% of funds for Medicare providers;
- Reduction of $285 million in heating assistance for low-income
- Slashed food aid and education for 600,000 low-income women and
children, who will be dropped from nutrition programs;
- A cut of $150 million to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, which will mean 25,000 fewer breast and cervical cancer screenings
for low-income women. Community health care centers will be cut by $120
- Reduction of $183 million for national parks resulting in shorter
seasons, fewer operating hours and possible park closings;
- 5% reduction in spending for the National Institutes of Health;
- Devastating cuts in education, including 70,000 children losing
access to Head Start, and 14,000 teachers and workers will be laid off
because of a $124 million cut. There will be reduced aid to poor school systems
that rely most heavily on federal assistance;
- Parents of 30,000 low-income children will lose child-care
- A three-week furlough of all food safety employees will cause
2,100 fewer food-safety inspections. Many meat and poultry plants will be
forced to close, resulting in a shortage of meat, poultry and eggs, while
pushing prices higher. Public health could be affected by the inevitable
black-market sales of uninspected food;
- About 10% of air-traffic controllers will be on furlough every
day to help meet a $600 million cut, resulting in reduced air traffic across
the country and delays and disruptions;
- Several air-monitoring sites will be shut down, as will more than
100 water-quality projects around the country;
- Nearly 1,000 grants from the National Science Foundation will be
canceled or reduced, affecting research in clean energy and reform of
science and math education;
- Less funding for biomedical research;
- Cuts in funding for federal courts;
- Loss of federal loan guarantees for small businesses.
That is only a partial list. Hundreds of additional domestic programs will
also be adversely affected.
The human tragedy that awaits us is truly catastrophic. The toll in loss
of jobs will be horrific, with 600,000 expected to be laid off, including
10,000 teachers. Moreover, the ability of the federal government to assist
states and cities will be severely restricted.
As of March 1, the quality and capacity of the delivery of pubic services,
already stretched in many cases to the breaking point, will decline
precipitously. Social Security is a case in point. The Social Security
Administration (SSA) has lost 8,000 jobs since 2011. At the present time, there are
over 700,000 disability claims and hearing appeals backlogged. Sequestration
and alternative budget proposals could result in an additional $600
million to $1 billion cut from SSA’s current inadequate funding levels.
Imagine shopping in a busy super market with eight checkers. As it is, we
shoppers often have to endure long lines. But what if four of the checkers
were laid off? Waiting to be checked out could be so prolonged that
shopping would become an even greater ordeal.
America is about to become a country of longer lines, longer waits for
government agencies like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to answer
phones, longer waits to reach health-care providers, longer waits to get a
measure of justice in an administrative agency or a court, etc.
Who Should Be Held Accountable for the Loss of Jobs and the Deterioration of Pubic Services that Sequestration Would Cause?
The answer is: All the legislators who voted to make it the law of the
land and the president, who not only signed the legislation, but was the one
who advocated sequestration in the first place.
A false notion is being disseminated that the Republicans bear sole
responsibility for the sequestration. No doubt they bear much of the blame, but
they are certainly not alone. The Democratic-controlled Senate approved the
Budget Control Act with the sequestration by a whopping 74-26 vote, the
House by 269-161. If the 95 Democrats in the House who voted “yes” on the Act
had voted “no,” there would be no sequestration facing us today.
Can the Sequestration Be Stopped?
In our view there are four possibilities for avoiding the sequestration at
this time. The first is if the can gets kicked down the road one more
time. The second is if President Obama and the Democrats blinked and make
significant concessions, agreeing to substantial cuts in spending for domestic
programs. The third is if the Republicans blinked and make significant
concessions on the revenue side. The fourth is if massive and organized pubic
opposition spearheaded by the labor movement and its community partners
mobilized numbers in the streets sufficient to force the politicians to rescind
the sequestration and look for other ways to cope with the crisis.
We in the ELN are focused on the fourth of these possibilities. And while
it is admittedly late in the day, it is not too late to unite the vast
majority who oppose the cuts that will be wrought by the sequestration to act
decisively and demand that it be repealed. Where there’s a will, there’s a
way, and given the magnitude of what is at stake here, the will must be
found, or else we face another calamity that will do grievous harm to so much
of the population.