On March 1, Congress failed the American people. Because of Congress’ inability to act, Americans across the country will now face longer lines at airports and DMVs, reduced availability of Medicare funds and most frighteningly, the reduction of emergency service personnel.
This is the result of budget sequestration, the consequence of a prolonged budget debate that Congress has been engaged in for several years. In 2010, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2010, which included a provision that budget cuts would go into effect on Jan. 2, 2013 if a bi-partisan spending agreement was not reached by then. However, Congressional Democrats and Republicans could not agree on a plan to trim away some of the budgetary fat. This created the fiscal cliff debate that rang in the New Year. The American Taxpayer Relief Act, signed on Jan. 2, postponed the sequester for two months.
Over $85 billion will be cut from the federal budget in 2013, and over $995 billion in spending cuts will be spaced out over the next ten years. The cuts are spread evenly between defense spending and non-defense spending. While programs like Medicaid, Social Security and military pensions are unaffected, cuts will manifest themselves in reductions to Medicare spending, furloughs of government workers, and reductions in grant money for research and development.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Medicare spending will be cut by around two percent each year until 2023, despite the continued growth of the program. The CBO also reports that the sequester will reduce economic growth in 2013 from two percent to one point four percent and affect the retention of 750,000 jobs. Actually, 800,000 civilian Pentagon workers will have their workweek cut by one day a week without compensation. Up to 600,000 research and development jobs will be affected by the reduction in available grant money.
Congressional Republicans hailed the sequester deal as the austerity measure necessary to reduce the deficit and curb federal spending. Democrats lamented the cuts as detrimental, and warned that they may stunt the slowly-growing economy as America climbs out of its recession.
President Obama claimed that the cuts were “unnecessary, and at a time when too many Americans are still looking for work, inexcusable.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) remarked on the Senate floor before the sequester hit that, “Republicans should give Congress true flexibility—flexibility to cut wasteful subsidies, flexibility to close unnecessary tax loopholes…as usual, Republicans have put the demands of special interests over the needs of middle-class Americans.”
Speaker of the House John Boehner, (R-OH) claimed, “I don’t know whether it’s going to hurt the economy or not. I don’t think anyone quite understands how the sequester is really going to work.”
Michigan is already feeling the effects of the sequester. Gerald R. Ford International Airport workers face furloughs, which could stretch lines and make air travel a hassle to Grand Rapids residents. Many colleges in Western Michigan, such as Calvin College and Hope College, will see a reduction in federal financial aid to their students’ work-study programs. As more cuts take place throughout the sequestration’s ten-year period, colleges like Albion could face cuts as well.
Senior citizens will begin to feel the sting of reduced Medicare funding, as will their families, and the reduction in federal services will mean fewer emergency responders, air traffic controllers and teachers.
Despite all these possible negatives, there remains some hope for change. President Obama recently met with 11 GOP lawmakers about resolving the issues posed by the sequester, a meeting that Republican congressman Bob Corker (R-TN) called “constructive,” and added that “I think a plan can be reached.” Unfortunately, the Republicans recommitted to their pledge to stop any potential revenue increases.
The effects of the sequester will touch everyone in America, young and old. The next time an airport security line stretches across the terminal, America will have Congress to thank.
Photo courtesy of The White House, Wikimedia Commons