The storyline of the past few weeks has been about how terrible the impending sequester will be on our communities. On Friday, the day of doom finally happened. Sequestration went into effect, and despite the president pre-describing the impact in Armageddon-like terms, the sky didn’t fall and we’re all still here. You’ve probably heard the word ‘sequester’ more than you can handle, but I thought I should take time to explain what has really happened, and hopefully answer some of your questions.
What is the sequester?
The sequester is a package of across-the-board automatic spending cuts projected to total $85 billion this year and $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.
Is $85 billion a lot of money?
The amount is minuscule — it’s only 2.3 percent of this year’s $3.6 trillion budget. To put it in perspective, let’s bring the numbers down to a family income-level. The current national debt is over $16.5 trillion. At the family income level, this is equivalent to $165,000 in credit card debt. The $85 billion in cuts proposed in the sequester is equivalent to cutting $85 from your family budget; $85 barely puts a dent in your debt problem.
Why did Congress and the White House agree to the sequester in the first place?
In 2011, before I even arrived to Congress, the government was approaching its debt limit. The debt limit needed to be raised to prevent the nation from defaulting. The president and leaders in Congress agreed to the Budget Control Act, which allowed the debt ceiling to be raised in exchange for spending cuts and the sequester if the President’s appointed supercommittee failed to propose at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts through 2021.
Are spending cuts good or bad?
We have to get our fiscal house in order, and the only way to do that is through cutting spending. There is absolutely nothing wrong with cutting spending by $85 billion this year or a trillion dollars over the next decade — in fact, it’s necessary — but the president’s sequester is a reckless way to do it. As it currently stands, most of the cuts fall disproportionately on national defense.
Why didn’t Republicans and Democrats negotiate a deal to avert sequestration at the last minute?
Last year, the Republican-led House voted twice to replace the sequester with targeted cuts based on budget priorities. Unfortunately, the Democratic-run Senate and president never acted on either bill. negative impacts the sequester carries with it for our community will be the direct result of the unwillingness of the president and his Democratic colleagues in the Senate to work with the House to find a more responsible solution.
Can we cut spending in areas other than defense?
The president and his cabinet have 100 percent discretion over where the cuts should occur and how much should be cut from where. For example, our Air Force is currently operating at 50 percent readiness. Why would we reduce this even more? Why would we stop planes from flying and pilots from being trained, when we can cut billions in waste that the American people will never feel. Here are a few examples of where we could start:
o Free Cell Phones: This program cost $2.2 billion in 2013 alone.
o IRS TV Studio: The IRS has a full-service TV production studio, which costs $4 million annually to operate.
o Property Maintenance: The federal government spent $1.7 billion in 2010 to maintain property that is not in use or underutilized.
o EPA Grants to Foreign Countries: The EPA has given more than $100 million in grants to foreign countries over the last 10 years.
o Pay to Play Video Games: The National Science Foundation spent $1.2 million paying seniors to play “World of Warcraft” to study the impact it had on their brain.
I would prefer more prioritized cuts that would address real waste, fraud, and abuse in federal spending. The best plan forward would be smart cuts. The sequester is a distant second choice, but, clearly, it is better than nothing. Our goal every day in Washington should be about coming together to create jobs for hardworking Americans, reining in our out of control debt, and ensuring America maintains a strong national defense. I am hopeful that as we finally start cutting spending, we can put our budget on a path to balance in 10 years, and move forward toward an unprecedented level of prosperity.