While dire consequences were predicted by President Obama and others for the "Sequester" that started on March 1st, there might a silver lining to the automatic spending cuts that will amount to $550B over 10 years. About half of the sequestration will be in defense spending. While the reductions in the Defense Department should be welcomed, the other reductions make no sense at all. Here is a brief summary of what will be cut:
- Major cuts will occur in the emergency response system such as FEMA.
- Unemployment benefits will be cut by 9%.
- More than 100,000 formerly homeless people would lose their current housing as a result of sequestration.
- About 125,000 low-income families would be at risk of losing their housing because of rental assistance cuts.
- Care for up to 373,000 seriously mentally ill people will be eliminated.
- The FDA would conduct fewer food safety inspections.
- About 70,000 children would lose access to the early education program Head Start.
- The government's small business loan guarantees would get slashed by nearly $1 billion.
- Scientific research funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) will be slashed.
- Up to 424,000 HIV tests would be dropped and thousands of people with HIV would lose access to "life-saving" HIV drugs.
But, the reduction in defense spending should be welcomed since Congress and the Obama Administration seem to have no stomach for any real cuts in this arena. While the war in Iraq has ended and the war in Afghanistan is supposedly winding down, no serious reduction in the Defense Department budget has been considered by anyone in a position of authority in Washington.
For example, according to the Voice of America, the U.S. is building new drone bases in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia are continuing and the U.S. is aiding the French forces in Mali. In fact, Niger has just agreed to host a new American drone base which will be in close vicinity of the fighting in Mali.
Let's consider the number of aircraft carriers that different countries possess. The U.S. has 10 active carriers and is building three new ones. No other country has more than one except for Italy which has two. The question must be asked, why does the U.S. need so many carriers when the average construction and operating cost of each is estimated to be $22B?
More generally, "at an annual budget of roughly $650+ billion dollars, the United States spends as much on its military per year as [the sum of expenditures of the next] top 21 competing nations." Does anyone understand the logic of the defense spending in the United States?
As the Washington Post has noted, "the word 'cut' has a different meaning in Washington. It often means a reduction from a previously set rate of growth, as opposed to an actual decline in spending."
President Obama has projected various cuts in the defense budget during his presidency, but his previous cuts have mostly followed the gimmick of characterizing reduction in previously predicted expenditures as real cuts. The Sequester might be the first real cut in defense spending in a long time. It is unfortunate that numerous social programs are also being cut.