How “Across the Board Cuts” (Sequestration) Would Cause Great Pain to Millions
What’s Behind the Sequestration? (Source: Emergency Labor Network)
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 households;
- 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 million;
- 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 assistance;
- 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.