By Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.)
Sequestration was never intended to be good fiscal policy. It was never intended to be policy, period. When Congress passed the Budget Control Act in 2011, they formed the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, more commonly known as the Super Committee, to cut nearly a trillion dollars from the federal budget. Sequestration – a fancy word for painful cuts to every area of the 2013 budget – was a failsafe in case Super Committee negotiations broke down.
The plan was simple: By passing sequestration into law, Congress was creating a deterrent against its own gridlock. The law was so unpalatable to both sides – Democrats wanting to avoid cuts to social programs, and Republicans wanting to safeguard defense spending – that theoretically, everyone would negotiate in good faith to avoid it.
I say theoretically because in practice, negotiating in good faith is about as far from what has taken place as possible. Super Committee discussions broke down, lighting the fuse behind $1.2 trillion in sequestration cuts if Congress can’t find an alternative to agree on. And in the ten months since then, Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans have refused all attempts at bipartisan negotiations.
Democrats offered a responsible alternative that balances budget cuts with tax increases, so everyone gives a little but no one has to give a lot. The GOP response has been to take the defense budget completely off the chopping block, putting the full brunt of these cuts on programs for the middle class and poor.
Republicans claim they’re concerned about job losses from defense cuts, but the fact is non-defense cuts will likely cost more jobs and will clearly harm many more Americans than trimming our over-bloated military budget.
A recent study by George Mason University compared the impacts of the defense and non-defense sequesters, and the findings were striking. While the defense sequester may directly cut as many as 325,000 jobs, the non-defense cuts are projected to directly cost well over 420,000.
To make matters worse, the non-defense sequester will undermine our nation’s quality of life and future prospects. Funding for our neediest schools and children will be cut by more than $2.7 billion, eroding our kids’ chances at a brighter future and forcing over 46,000 employees to either lose their jobs or rely on cash-strapped States for their income.
Slashed budgets will also mean fewer Americans receiving the preventative health care they need. HIV tests, cancer screenings and life-saving vaccines will all become scarcer. In extreme cases – such as tests for HIV – more than half a million fewer tests will be available, endangering the public if the disease goes undiagnosed.
Some of our nation’s finest defenders will find their jobs in the cross hairs of the non-defense sequester. Police officers, air traffic controllers, food safety inspectors, FBI agents, and border patrol officers all face budget cuts. Not only would they lose their livelihoods, but we will all become less safe in the process.
If Republicans really care about job losses – and if they really care about minimizing the harm that sequestration will cause – they should protect all the American people, not just those they favor. They should support a balanced plan.
As we continue recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, we cannot cut solely from the programs that so many are counting on most. Instead, we should come together to reduce our deficit responsibly, without harming the American people or our economic recovery. As I said before, sequestration was never intended to happen – so let’s not let it.
Chu is a member of the House Small Business Committee.