Sequester’s Looming Consequences

Posted on October 2, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

By James Scott

Lost in the soul-crushing debate over the government shutdown and the federal debt limit  are the ballooning impacts of the sequester, which took effect on March 1 and forced tens of billions of dollars in budget reductions on the federal government.

True, you may not have felt it, adding fuel to the argument of conservatives that the budget axe fell only on bloated and wasteful federal spending. This is untrue, as America is soon to find out.

The government-wide spending cuts already are having impacts on programs for states, for the poor, for critical health research, for national defense and for pretty much everything else the government does.

On top of any impacts government agencies may feel because of a shut down or a cap on borrowing capacity, they also are dealing with $85 billion in sequester cuts. Furloughs, hiring freezes and limits on overtime have meant cutbacks in government service that are just now taking their toll.

Early effects were minor, like longer customs and security checkpoint lines at airports. Longer term, these cuts will effect important government investment in such thing as health research, aid to the poor, fighting crime and national security. Inconvenience is one thing; lives are another.

“We’re headed for some troubled waters on the sequester issues,” Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told Reuters recently.

National security, he said, is threatened.

“We’ll have some intelligence operations around the world that will have to shut down. We’ll have to curtail certain operations,” Rogers said. “And that information that’s collected is highly important to protecting the United States, so I do worry about it significantly.”

President Obama sought to restore sequester losses in his 2014 budget, which, of course, went nowhere. Even with an increased debt ceiling, the sequester cuts will continue to erode spending on national security and other core government functions.

The sequester, you’ll remember, came about as result of spending cuts demanded by Republicans in exchange for an increase in the debt limit two years ago. It was designed as sword of Damocles, ready to fall if Congress could not come up with $1.2 trillion in targeted budget savings. Of course, Congress failed as usual and the across the board cuts went into effect this spring.

Some agencies, like the Pentagon, were allowed to shift money around and make their cuts more targeted. But those fixes exhausted their ability to cut unneeded programs and projects in the first few months. Cutting fat is over, now we’re getting closer to the bone.

For example, FBI director James Comey said the federal law enforcement enterprise would not be able to train any new recruits and, like other federal employees, G-men faced furloughs.

Just as worrisome are how the cuts will impact longer term government programs, like health care research toward cures for major illnesses like Alzheimer’s, autism and cancer.

“And God help us if we get a worldwide pandemic that emerges in the next five years,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of National Institutes of Health, told The Huffington Post.

According to NIH estimates, more than 700 research grants have been cut. That number will grow to more than 1,000 this year is nothing is done.

And those aren’t the only impacts. The cuts have had devastating consequences for America’s poor, those who can afford cutbacks the least and a constituency that lacks any true lobbying voice with the powers that control the purse strings.

Where the budget axe meets the bone, though, is not just in Washington, it’s also in the state capitals.

Take New Jersey for example. The White House says the state will loose $11.7 in funding for primary and secondary education, $17 million in funds for children with disabilities, $4.9 million in environmental funding, $840,000 in funds to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats, and much more. Some 11,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $75 million in total. And that’s just in one state.

The rippling economic impacts are incalculable. In the end, claims that the sequester proved the federal government can get by with less are true. The real question is at what longer-term price.

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$11.70 is what, the price of a sandwich in a NYC deli? I am guessing you left off some units, like million or billion.


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