The High Price of “Just Plain Dumb” Sequester Cuts

Terrance Heath

The Truth and Consequences of Sequestration, Pt. 2

Earlier I wrote that truth about the sequester is that White House prescribed it as antidote to the “fever” that had driven the GOP into such delirium that the Republicans were ready to crash the economy and take the rest of the country down with it. Surely cuts so stupid and severe would have a sobering effect. No sane member of Congress would ever want those cuts to take effect. Even the most committed ideologues would recoil from inflicting the consequences of those cuts on the country. GOP leadership would talk the tea party down from the ledge, and Congress would pull the country back from the brink.

Perhaps the lesson of the sequester, then, is never to bet against the craziness of ultra-conservatives in the GOP. The consequences of losing that bet are considerable.

Consequences

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D, Mass.) said it best. Letting $1.2 trillion in in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts ($85 billion in this fiscal year) happen, just because Congress can’t seem to get its act together is “just plain dumb.”

Is there a better way to describe spending cuts with consequences like these?

The Economy

The gradual nature of sequestration cuts makes it difficult to predict exactly how a $1.2 trillion reduction in federal spending, or even an $85 billion spending reduction over the next seven months, will impact the economy. As we’ll see below, the cuts impact the economy in ways both direct and indirect.

One thing’s clear; sequestration will be bad for the economy. The only question is: How bad?

Jobs and More

Layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts make the sequester a frightening prospect for workers. Besides the negative impact on the economy, this aspect of the sequester may be a death knell for one of the GOP’s favorite talking points: that government spending doesn’t create jobs.

Not only will furloughed federal and state employees will spend less money buying goods and services in the private sector, but thousands will suffer a lack of the services provided by public workers and public funding.

  • The sequester will cost 750,000 to 1 million jobs. Congressional Budget OfficeCEO Douglass Elemendorf says the sequester could result in the loss of 750,000 jobs this year alone. The Bipartisan Policy center says 1 million jobs are at risk, because the sequester will pull so much money out of the economy so quickly.

Defense

  • Pentagon chiefs warn that the sequester is likely to further weaken a gorse already reeling from two long wars.
  • Two thirds of the Army’s brigade combat teams could be rendered unfit for deployment.

Air Safety - $600 million in cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration

  • More than 2,000 air traffic controllers could be furloughed at one time.
  • 15,000 could be laid off for more more than two weeks.
  • Fewer available flights and longer waits at airports are the likely result.

 

 

Customs and Border Protections – $500 billion in cuts

  • Time it takes to clear customs could increase 50 percent.

Federal Bureau of Investigation – $550 million in cuts

  • Equivalent of 7,000 employees not working each day, or the loss of 1,000 agents,
  • Reduced number of background checks on gun buyers

Criminal Justice – $338 million in cuts

  • More lockdowns, increased chance of violence and risks to guards

 

  • Federal prosecutors will handle 2,600 fewer cases

 

USDA – $2.2 billion in cuts

  • Plants forced to close
  • $400 million in lost wages
  • Shortages and increased prices for consumers

Centers for Disease Control – $350 million in cuts

  • 25,000 fewer breast and cervical cancer screenings for low income women
  • 424,000 fewer HIV tests
  • 540,000 fewer doses of flu, hepatitis and measles vaccines

National Park Services – $218 million in cuts

Sequestration gets even more painful when cuts to education and social service programs begin to impact “real people.”

  • Children and mothers losing WIC nutrition aid: 600,000
  • Low-income children kicked out of Head Start: 70,000
  • Funding eliminated for special education teachers, aides, and staff: 7,200
  • Low-income families losing rental housing vouchers: 125,000
  • Formerly homeless people losing housing: 100,000
  • Children denied affordable child care: 30,000
  • Fewer people with disabilities served by Vocational Rehab: 75,700
  • Fewer meals on wheels served to seniors: 4m
  • Adults and children with serious mental illness losing treatment: 373,000

Back to the Truth

What’s keeping Congress from stopping the sequestration insanity? The same thing that started the insanity to begin with. Republicans voted overwhelmingly for the sequester, and without there votes we wouldn’t be talking about sequestration right now. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham admits as much.

As South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, no fan of the sequester, said: “We have our fingerprints as Republicans on this proposal, on this sequestration idea. It was the president’s idea, according to Bob Woodward’s book. But we as the Republican Party agreed to it.”

And if the sequester happens it will be because Republicans in Congress want to happen, even if it means having to live with defense cuts. In fact, the willingness to accept defense cuts indicates a shift in the GOP that makes the sequester more likely to happen, as conservatives bent on shrinking the government down to bathtub size wield more influence than those committed to a strong national defense. That has a lot to do with how Republicans see the sequester.

… Republicans feel, with a certain amount of glee, that the Democrats didn’t understand that today’s GOP cares much more about cutting spending than protecting defense, and so they basically got one over on the White House in the design of the sequester. The crude, across-the-board nature of the cuts is objectionable, and Republicans are considering various ways to fix that — including giving the White House more discretion in implementing the sequester — but the basic quantity and distribution of the cuts is, if not optimal, far better than nothing.

Congress legislated the sequester into existence, and Congress can legislate the sequester out of existence — by repealing it. Unfortunately, that will require Republican votes, and getting those votes will require John Boehner to show some leadership and willingness to have a much needed “Sister Souljah” moment in his own party.

As painful the consequences of these cuts are, many conservatives feel that sequestration is the right thing to do — the right thing to do to children in Head Start and families on WIC. And if Boehner and his party can’t corral the GOP’s ultra conservative wing, many thousands of children and families will pay the high price of the “just plain dumb” cuts in the sequester.

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