Shutdown, Sequester, and Sustainability

By: Brian Nistler

It is a familiar scenario: Republicans and Democrats cannot seem to agree on a basic operating budget to keep our government running, and while they go back and forth, the small amount of progress we have been able to make is jeopardized. This same scenario caused the United States’ credit rating to downgrade back in September, and similar events caused the government sequestration.  Americans have been here before, just last year in 2012, and will be there again at the end of the month of March, unless something changes. Already the effects of the sequester have taken an effect on our nation’s recovery; anytime eighty five billion dollars is cut from the government there are ripples and effects throughout the nation. Aside from all the governmental employees being furloughed and sent home without possible pay as they try to raise their families, air traffic controllers being shut down, funding to public schools being cut, our Defense Department canceling contracts, the White House is no longer offers tours! Something must be done; to arms I say!

Despite all the pessimism around Washington, a slight glimmer of hope, or at the least of functionality, may be brewing.  A bipartisan bill providing full government funding for a year passed the Senate with a 63-35 vote, and passed the house with 318-109.  Ten Republicans voted with the majority of Senate Democrats to pass the 2013 Fiscal Funding Bill. The bill lays out a framework for navigating last month’s sequester, to the best it can. This bill attempts to addresses the already in effect sequestration and prevent the government shutdown set to happen at the end of this month.

The bill essentially allows for the moving around of funds to prevent looming furloughs for government employees in several departments, including the Department of Defense and Department of Agriculture. Although the effects of the sequester will still be very real, the bill seeks to allow some of the brunt of the cuts to be diverted and reallocated, at least in certain areas.

An amendment proposed by Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. and Roy Blunt, R-Mo. would shift fifty-five million dollars from lower-priority Agriculture Department accounts to prevent furloughs of thousands of food inspectors. The move is necessary to prevent intermittent closure of 6,300 food inspection plants, threatening more than 500,000 workers with almost $400 million in lost wages.

Additionally, the legislation pieces together the detailed budgets for the Pentagon and several domestic cabinet agencies, including the Departments of Commerce, Homeland Security and Justice. Although these agencies will still be subject to across-the-board spending cuts, they will maintain their full budget bills in place to help them cope with the cuts.

However, despite all the cuts, furloughs, and layoffs from the existing sequester, the repetitious budget bickering continues in Congress, Even Paul Ryan, failed GOP Vice Presidential nominee and House Budget Committee Chairperson, has returned to the Hill with his rhetoric of how to decrease the budget. Ryan’s latest plan? It relies on higher tax revenues enacted in January and improved Medicare cost estimates – along with $4.6 trillion in spending cuts over a decade – to promise a balanced budget in 10 years.

Senate Democrats, on the other hand would repeal the sequester cuts at a cost of $1.2 trillion over a decade, and blend about $1 trillion in modest cuts to health care providers, the Pentagon, domestic agencies, and interest payments on the debt with an equal amount in new revenue claimed by closing tax breaks. The net result would cut about $600 billion from the deficit over 10 years.

All the while the sequester is endangering an already precarious economy. It is true that progress has been made to revitalize American economic interests, but this progress could be hindered by or even halted by the cuts set up by the sequester. For example, if the sequester cuts remain in effect, the Federal Airline Administration will have to close one hundred and forty nine air traffic towers. Although this will not shut down airports entirely, pilots will be left to coordinate their take offs and landings amongst themselves using a shared radio frequency. These cuts would come from smaller airports but would cause potential delays at the larger hubs.

If unchanged, the sequester cuts would also drastically affect other areas of our infrastructure: it would cut defense spending, canceling defense contracts and reducing the size of our military; it would cut our ability to respond to natural disasters and impede our ability to provide aid to those in dangerous areas due to inclement weather; 100,000 formerly homeless people would lose their housing, becoming homeless again; 373,000 seriously mentally ill patients would lose care; 70,000 children would lose the ability to enroll in head start programs for early education; and the government’s small business loan fund would will be slashed by 1 billion dollars.

All of these cuts will affect the welfare and effective functioning of our nation, especially one that is still feebly recovering. Congress should be concerned more with these potential steps backwards rather than the cancellation of the White House tours, so prominent in the press. This bill is the first step towards a sustainable budget that seeks to bolster our economy; amounting to more than mere bickering over partisan issues, this could be the first step (one of many) that needs to come before we are back on track to effective governance.

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/24/budget-cuts-federal-defenders_n_2944109.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/18/government-funding-bill_n_2903799.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/22/faa-closing-air-traffic-towers_n_2934601.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/20/the-sequester-absolutely-everything-you-could-possibly-need-to-know-in-one-faq/

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