If President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans can’t reach an agreement by Friday, more than $85 billion of the $3.6 trillion federal budget will be sequestered. This means automatic spending cuts of $42.7 billion each for the military budget and domestic programs for the remaining seven months of the current fiscal year, from March to September.
How will these cuts affect people here in Michigan? Examples include a cut of $40 million for the Army Tank-Automotive Command (TACOM) in Warren, with 6,700 civilian employees furloughed with one unpaid day off a week, and 950 private sector jobs lost; the University of Michigan losing $40 million in research grants for such projects as seeking a cure for Alzheimer’s disease; a $27.3 million cut in Title I education funding, with 30,000 students affected and 300 jobs lost; a $20 million cut in special education grants, affecting 10,000 students, with 227 jobs lost; a $14 million cut in Head Start, affecting 2,200 students; a 9.4 percent cut in unemployment benefits for 77,000 long term unemployed people; closure of control towers in six small airports, including Coleman A. Young Airport in Detroit, with air traffic controllers laid off; furloughs for civilian employees at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township; and a slowdown in the Environmental Protection Agency certifying that new cars meet emission standards, which is required before they can be sold.
Overall, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 750,000 jobs would be lost if the sequester lasts the full seven months, causing a 0.6 percent decline in economic activity, amounting to a new recession when the U.S. still hasn’t fully recovered from the last one.
We are facing this idiotic and irresponsible meat ax approach to federal budgeting because Republicans, who control the U.S. House, are right wing ideological extremists who refuse to act like adults. Hating government in the first place, their inability to govern has made Washington dysfunctional. Historically, when there has been divided control of government, bipartisan compromise has occurred, aimed at problem solving in the public interest. But the Tea Party extremists elected in 2010, along with their ideological soul mates that were already there, don’t have the word “compromise” in their vocabularies.
Thus it was that after considerable brinksmanship, Obama and the Republicans agreed to a stopgap budget deal in 2011 which included the sequester. Since it is a lose-lose proposition for everyone involved, Obama hoped that a budget agreement could be reached to avoid it, but that hasn’t happened so far.
What happens next is impossible to predict. Perhaps a deal will be reached at the last minute. Perhaps the sequester will be put off for a few months to allow time for negotiations. Perhaps the sequester will take effect, but a deal will be reached quickly to minimize the damage. Perhaps the sequester will drag on for months, possibly exacerbated by a government shutdown when the current continuing resolution that funds government programs expires on March 27. We could see all hell break loose, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
While a lot of people don’t like government, nearly everyone uses government services, some of which, such as Social Security and Medicare, are very popular. That is why polls find Obama with a 60 percent approval rating, compared to 19 percent for congressional Republicans. If the sequester does occur, Republicans are likely to get the blame, and could get walloped at the polls in 2014 for it. But in the interim, don’t forget your barf bag.