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Coming Sequester Cuts Will Make Most of Americans' Lives Worse -– And People Are Mobilizing

In just over a week the government is probably going to enter full-scale austerity.
 
 
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In just over a week the government is probably going to enter full-scale austerity. Republicans are refusing to end tax loopholes for big corporations and billionaires, choosing to let the “sequester” occur instead. Unless something changes, and soon, $1.2 trillion in cuts to defense and domestic spending begin to kick in. This will hit jobs, growth, and above all it will hit real people.

Starting today, real people started pushing back through a series of more than 100 events that were scheduled in 23 states around the country. They are sponsored by a coalition that includes national labor groups, Americans for Tax Fairness and Health Care for America Now. (You can see a list of events at AmericaWantsToWork.org or 99Uniting.org.)

The events come on the heels of our own campaign to send messages to members of Congress:
Disarm the Austerity Bomb. Stop the Sequester.

Actual People

This “sequester” resulted from one more of those Republican hostage-taking crises. They took the debt-ceiling hostage in an attempt to force cuts in spite of polls showing that We, the People wanted taxes raised on the wealthy and no cuts in essential things government does for people. As part of the deal to release the hostages they demanded that this looming “sequester” be set up, to bring pressure on Congress to gut other parts of the budget.

People feel squeezed, and rely on essential government services, because 40% Of Americans Now Make Less Than 1968 Minimum Wage. That’s right, the linked post explains that if the 1968 minimum wage had increased along with gains in productivity, the minimum wage would be $16.50 an hour today. Between that, the continuing effects of the recent Great Recession, the decline of union bargaining power, and the “austerity” cuts that have already been forced on us by Republicans people are already stretched to the limit. And now this.

The effect of these things on actual people has not been a part of the national budget discussion for quite a while. After all, by definition in a democracy all government spending is things We, the People decide to do to make our lives better. But also by definition in a plutocracy the things We, the People want just don’t count.

But anyway, here are some numbers, from a fact sheet I received from the Coalition On Human Needs:

A new round of federal budget cuts is slated to start on March 1. If nothing is done, the cuts will deny food to young children, turn low-income families out of their homes, and reduce funds for education and training. These indiscriminate across-the-board cuts (called “sequestration”) come on top of an average 7.6 percent cut in federal funds to states since 2010. The looming federal cuts would make things worse, hurting vulnerable people, shifting burdens to states and localities, and threatening economic growth.

  • Children and mothers losing WIC nutrition aid: 600,000
  • Low-income families losing rental housing vouchers: 125,000
  • Formerly homeless people losing housing: 100,000
  • Children denied Head Start: 70,000
  • Funding cut from Head Start: $406m
  • Children denied affordable child care: 30,000
  • $ cuts deep enough to end services to these many low-income K-12 children: $1.2m
  • Fewer people with disabilities served by Vocational Rehab: 75,700
  • Fewer meals on wheels served to seniors: 4m
  • Adults and children with serious mental illness losing treatment: 373,000
  • Unemployment benefits cut for long-term unemployed: 9.4%
  • Jobs lost because of sequestration: over 1m

Media Matters has also assembled just a few things that will be cut:

The sequester cuts would mean:

  • 70,000 children kicked off Head Start and 1.2 million kids seeing their schools lose education funds, which mean fewer teachers, crowded classrooms, and less learning time. What if it’s your child’s school?
  • Emergency responders lose their jobs, which means slower response times and weaker disaster preparedness. What if your neighborhood is the next one hit by a weather disaster?
  • Layoffs of airport traffic controllers and transportation security workers. Do you want longer lines and more hassles at the airport?
  • Layoffs at the Social Security Administration, which mean delays and hassles for seniors enrolling in Medicare or calling about their Social Security benefits. What if it’s your parents?
    Up to 2,100 fewer food inspections. Do you want to worry about the safety of the food you put on your family’s dinner table?
  • Fewer FBI agents and law enforcement to protect our families from violent criminals. What if it’s your family?

Media Matters asks this question: Wouldn’t you rather get rid of special interest tax loopholes for corporations and millionaires?

Jobs And Economic Growth

As Atrios says repeatedly at his Eshaton blog, Contractionary policy is contractionary. Austerity — cutting back on the things government does to make our lives better — cuts back on jobs and growth. England has learned this. The rest of Europe has learned this.

When you slash government the economy slows, tax revenue decreases, “safety net” program costs go up, and deficits increase. It is just a fact. It is just math. And now it is proven by what has happened in all the countries that have tried it.

Even Defense Cuts Done Wrong

Yes, we need to cut the defense budget, but in a planned way, not all at once with a meat-ax that lays off thousands of people who work in this area. The Pentagon has announced it will furlough 800,000 people. That is 800,000 paychecks that will be cut — people who pay rent or mortgages and shop at local grocery stores and clothing stores. Those stores will have to cut back, etc.

Republicans Caused It, Try To Blame Obama

The sequester is spending cuts that Republicans have been demanding, to “reduce the size of government.” But now that it is actually occurring, they are trying to deflect blame.

Even though it is Republicans who want government cut, who brought this on by taking the debt ceiling hostage and demanding cuts, who constantly demand cuts to make government “smaller”, who harp on the evils of government in general, and overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that is forcing this and Democrats overwhelmingly voted against it, are trying to say this isn’t their doing.

But John Avlon, at The Daily Beast, writes in The PowerPoint That Proves It’s Not Obama’s Sequester After All,

… the whole self-defeating exercise was carried out in response to Tea Party Republicans’ insistence that we play chicken with the debt ceiling, which ultimately cost America its AAA credit rating.

But here’s the thing. I happened to come across an old email that throws cold water on House Republicans’ attempts to call this “Obama’s Sequester.”

It’s a PowerPoint presentation that Boehner’s office developed with the Republican Policy Committee and sent out to the Capitol Hill GOP on July 31, 2011. Intended to explain the outline of the proposed debt deal, the presentation is titled: “Two Step Approach to Hold President Obama Accountable.”

It’s essentially an internal sales document from the old dealmaker Boehner to his unruly and often unreasonable Tea Party cohort. But it’s clear as day in the presentation that “sequestration” was considered a cudgel to guarantee a reduction in federal spending—the conservatives’ necessary condition for not having America default on its obligations.

The presentation lays out the deal in clear terms, describing the spending backstop as “automatic across-the-board cuts (‘sequestration’). Same mechanism used in 1997 Balanced Budget Agreement.”

Please click through and see the rest.

The Choices

The President says Republicans have a choice: compromise and close loopholes for corporations and billionaires or let the sequester kill jobs and growth and hurt people. From The Hill, Pentagon informs Congress of plans to furlough 800K civilians

“Republicans in Congress face a simple choice,” the president said Tuesday. “Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investments in education and healthcare and national security and all the jobs that depend on them? Or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations?”

The problem with the President’s plan is he is offering what he calls a “balanced” approach of closing loopholes and then offers additional cuts to try to get them to go along. In effect, Obama Says Cuts Bad, Proposes Cuts,

Common sense might suggest that if a thug is holding a kid hostage and demanding money you don’t offer him half the money and say he can shoot half the kid. That is a “balanced” response to hostage-taking. But it is not the correct response.

There is one more choice and it is the right choice: just don’t do this. Repeal the sequester. Stop the cuts.

Dave Johnson is a fellow at Campaign for America's Future.
 
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