Sequestration will begin in March 1st unless Congress and the President call it off or make a more considered agreement about cuts and revenues. That puts us in countdown mode. Counting today, sequestration will happen in 8 days. Everyone seems most upset about cuts to the military and to national security, but the real killer here to me is more cuts to schools.
Our schools have borne the brunt of budget cuts every year for far too long. Teachers and staff have been cut so drastically that some schools are becoming dangerous places. Teaching children with special needs often depends on a complicated team of teaching staff, aides and even, sometimes, requires one-on-one supervision. Schools are cutting back on the numbers of staff on the team because of budget cuts. Teachers have no back up. When stressed teachers get sick or take “mental health” breaks schools have to scramble to find good subs to take their places. Sometimes, in situations where the staff members who are present every day have a tenuous hold on control, placing a substitute teacher, who has no history with the situation, can put the student, the sub, and even others in the school in actual danger. Teachers in our schools are injured by students “acting out” more often than you would think. If we cut our schools anymore than we have already we might as well send our students home, hold a giant conference and come up with a new way to teach our children because we will not be able to sustain current schooling patterns.
In today’s Daily BeastI read an article called 8 Ways the Sequester Could Ruin Your Life by Caitlin Dickson which describes some other areas of our lives which could become problematic under the sequester. However, news commentators have been accused of choosing “worst case scenarios” and others say that these agencies will not necessarily have to cut the services that are mentioned, that they are using fear tactics to try to rile up Americans so that they will fight the sequester. We, the American citizens, appear uninterested. Or perhaps we welcome the sequester. Or it could just be that we have reached a point where the activities of the clowns in Washington have little or nothing to do with our everyday lives.
Anyway, here is the list of 8:
· Cuts in the Food Safety and Inspection Service will put the safety of our food supply in greater jeopardy. We are talking here about “the people paid to make sure your burger is made of beef and not horse”.
· Small business loan guarantees will be cut by up to $902 million, causing greater stress for small businesses.
· Cuts would impact national parks.
· Cuts of 10% of the FAA’s workforce such as air traffic controllers will make travel a nightmare
· “If you’re a parent, a student, or a teacher, there’s a good chance you’re going to get screwed.”
· Cuts to FEMA will make it dangerous or at least expensive to live in disaster-prone areas.
· The AIDS Drug Assistance Program will be cut – fewer tests, fewer drugs, more HIV – Yikes!
· Cuts to OSHA will jeopardize workplace safety.
Republicans will not do anything to avoid the sequester because they are adamant that America cannot have any more increases in revenue, especially increases that target the wealthy. Although they loudly called for tax reform throughout the election they now inform us that they are so disgusted with the tax rate increase on those who make more than $400,000 a year that they are done with revenues and will not even discuss tax reform. In other words, although they did not win the election, they want their way and they want it now and they are willing to let the rest of us “dangle over the pits of hell” in order to get their way (OK, perhaps a bit dramatic, but basically true). I am willing to go with the sequester because it leaves our safety net completely alone, but I do see that this is quite selfish, especially when I think about the effects on our schools. While it makes me very angry that Republicans are once again using the numbers they have in the House to bully everyone, what makes me angrier is their refusal to entertain some tax reforms, which they favored, just from spite. If we stop paying them will they go home and take their tedious stonewalling with them. It is clear that our economy need stimulus as well as cuts, but we cannot make that happen because the party that lost is controlling policy.
David Brooks, who skews Republican, wrote an article this morning Feb. 21, 2013) in the New York Times about the sequester. He obviously feels the sequester is a bad idea. Here is some of what he had to say in his article called The D. C. Dub Step:
On July 26, 2011, Jack Lew, then the White House budget director, went to Harry Reid’s office for a budget strategy session. According to Bob Woodward’s book, “The Price of Politics,” Lew told the Senate majority leader that they had come up with a trigger idea to force a budget deal.
“What’s the idea?” Reid asked.
“Sequestration,” Lew responded.
Reid folded himself over with his head between his knees, as if he were going to throw up. Then he came upright and gaped at the ceiling. “A couple of weeks ago,” he exclaimed, “my staff said to me there is one more possible” enforcement method: sequestration. Reid said he had told his staff at the time, “Get the hell out of here. That’s insane. The White House surely will come up with a plan that will save the day. And you come to me with sequestration?”
Sequestration may have seemed insane back then. But politicians in both parties are secretly discovering that they love sequestration now. It allows them to do the dance moves they enjoy the most.
These two dance moves, the P.C. Shimmy and the Suicide Stage Dive, when combined, are beautifully guaranteed to cause maximum damage to the country. What’s America’s biggest problem right now? It is that business people think that government is so dysfunctional that they are afraid to invest and spur growth. So what are the parties going to do? They are going to prove that government is so dysfunctional that you’d be crazy to invest and spur growth.
In a normal country, the politicians would try some new moves. For example, if they agreed to further means test Medicare they could save a lot of money. Democrats would be hitting the rich. Republicans would be reforming entitlements.
But no. Both parties love their current moves. It’s enough to make Harry Reid put his head between his legs and throw up.
Paul Krugman, who skews left, also wrote an article about sequestration in today’s NYTs called Sequester of Fools:
They’re baaack! Just about two years ago, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairmen of the late unlamented debt commission, warned us to expect a terrible fiscal crisis within, um, two years unless we adopted their plan. The crisis hasn’t materialized, but they’re nonetheless back with a new version. And, in case you’re interested, after last year’s election — in which American voters made it clear that they want to preserve the social safety net while raising taxes on the rich — the famous fomenters of fiscal fear have moved to the right, calling for even less revenue and even more spending cuts…
The right policy would be to forget about the whole thing. America doesn’t face a deficit crisis, nor will it face such a crisis anytime soon. Meanwhile, we have a weak economy that is recovering far too slowly from the recession that began in 2007. And, as Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, recently emphasized, one main reason for the sluggish recovery is that government spending has been far weaker in this business cycle than in the past. We should be spending more, not less, until we’re close to full employment; the sequester is exactly what the doctor didn’t order.
Unfortunately, neither party is proposing that we just call the whole thing off. But the proposal from Senate Democrats at least moves in the right direction, replacing the most destructive spending cuts — those that fall on the most vulnerable members of our society — with tax increases on the wealthy, and delaying austerity in a way that would protect the economy…
House Republicans, on the other hand, want to take everything that’s bad about the sequester and make it worse: canceling cuts in the defense budget, which actually does contain a lot of waste and fraud, and replacing them with severe cuts in aid to America’s neediest. This would hit the nation with a double whammy, reducing growth while increasing injustice.
I say it sure would be nice to see our Congress compromise and make the sequester go away or I could also go along with “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”.
Eight days – we’re going there, the place we did not think we would ever go and our only comfort is that everyone says it will not be all that bad and we will not have to live with it all that long. We shall see, won’t we?