WASHINGTON -- Worry less about looming defense budget cuts, and more about the ones that will hurt regular people and families, leading Democrats argued in a Wednesday rally on Capitol Hill.
"Let's take a hard look at waste and inefficiencies in the Pentagon budgets and we'll be happy to take a look at waste and inefficiencies in the non-defense budget," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told The Huffington Post. "Let's match them up. I mean, that's ridiculous. We can do a lot without harming our national defense. We can't just take it all out of non-defense discretionary."
Harkin has been trying to counter the growing cries -- including from Democrats -- to preserve the defense budget from automatic cuts that Congress agreed to in last summer's debt limit deal. Far less has been said about the impacts on cuts other parts of the budget that would be just as large if the so-called "sequester" kicks in starting in 2013.
To illustrate the other side of the picture, Harkin released a report analyzing the impact of sequestration on "Nondefense Jobs and Services."
Among the highlights, the report noted that the economic effects on nondefense programs could be worse than cuts to Pentagon spending. It cited a December 2011 study that "found that investing $1 billion in health care or education creates significantly more jobs within the U.S. economy than spending $1 billion on the military." It argued that health care investments produce 54 percent more jobs and education yields 138 percent more.
If Congress does not act by Dec. 31, the sequester requires $1.2 trillion in cuts across the board, in both defense and other discretionary spending, resulting in an 8 percent loss to non-defense programs.
"It's been hard. To avoid the sequester, we need a balanced approach -- there is what we put out and what we bring in," said Emily Holubowich, spokeswoman for the Coalition on Health Funding, which spearheaded the event. "The amount of money we tend to bring in has been historically low," referring to historic low tax rates that averaged just 17.4 percent in 2009.
In a letter to Congress last week, a coalition of 3,000 organizations listed their concerns. Non-defense "programs represent a small and shrinking share of the federal budget and of our overall economy," the letter said. "The [non-defense] budget represented just 3.4 percent of our country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011, consistent with historical levels."
"Everyone is concerned about the full effects of sequestration, but what we cannot say is we're just gonna take care of defense and take it all out of the non-defense side. What we are talking about today is the impacts on thousands of Americans," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told HuffPost "We are not going to allow sequestration to be a one-sided solution, it has to be balanced, it has to be fair, and there has to be revenue on the table."
Rita Ngabo, who spoke at the rally to put a human face on the cold numbers, said she was a 21-year-old homeless single mother with a 9-month-old infant a little more than three years ago, and she depended on government subsidies to get job training and child care. She is now a caseworker, helping other people in similar situations.
She said even the threat of sequestration was hurting people.
"We don't know what to tell the 19,000 who are currently on the wait-list [for job training and child care]," Nbago said, pointing out that telling an employer you're on a list doesn't do much to land the job. "Their excuse to their employer is that 'I don't have child care' or 'my child is being kicked out.' "
Not only do low-income families rely on this type of spending, but entire communities. "Businesses built in communities rely on these types of spending," said Holubowich. "Picture a college university -- a third of their budget comes from federal grants. This has an impact on everyone."
Rep. Rose De Lauro (D-Conn.) vehemently defended the working class. "Let's deal with revenue and let's deal with spending. We are not going to balance this budget on the backs of working families, middle class families and the most vulnerable in our society," she told HuffPost. "That is not who we are. If you want to start someplace, close the corporate loopholes and stop the subsidies to the special interests."
State governments would be particularly hard hit by sequester cuts to social spending. "One-third of what we spend ... is going to state and local governments," said Holubowich.
As the progressive Democrats rallied, the Senate's No. 2 Republican agreed more attention should be paid to the domestic programs facing the sequester ax, if only to get Democrats to replace the sequester.
"I think so, because I think that will help people on the other side of the aisle understand how foolish these kind of across-the-board cuts can be," Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told reporters outside a panel discussion on the defense sequester.
Kyl insisted that both Democrats and Republicans "care about that other half of the ledger," which includes similar cuts to Head Start, child care assistance, AIDS assistance and substance-abuse treatment programs.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who voted against the legislation that established sequestration, said she naturally focuses more on the defense cuts as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"Listen, there's no question that I think we need to cut spending," the New Hampshire Republican told reporters. "Basically the sequestration approach is not the right approach for either side of the budget.
John Shadegg Wields A Baby
In this past weekend's health care debate, Arizona Republican John Shadegg bravely opened a new frontier by <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/10/jon-stewart-mocks-use-of_n_351911.html">using a live baby as a visual aid</a> to complain about health care reform. The infant, Maddie, was introduced as Shadegg's grand-daughter, which Shadegg quickly corrected, saying, "I wish this <i>was</i> my granddaughter." I wish most Congresspersons demonstrated Maddie's level of cognitive development, but no!
Alan Grayson Warns We Will All Die Slowly
Florida Democrat Alan Grayson made headlines when he took to the well of the House of Representatives<a href="http://airamerica.com/politics/10-27-2009/grayson/"> to warn that the GOP health care plan</a> was for all of the nation's uninsured to DIE QUICKLY! But not so quick that you miss all of the manufactured suspense as Grayson flipped through his poster boards.
Tom Latham Regifts The Chinese
Iowa Republican Tom Latham hates him some cap and trade. So much that he <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/politics_nation/2009/06/latham_brings_props_to_house_f.html">decided to box up a hard hat</a> with the words "American Jobs" written on it and send it to China, as a gift. How thoughtful! And all we've gotten in return is a mess of poisonous toys.
Peter Roskam's Into Bondage
Illinois Republican Peter Roskam took a look at the health care bill and saw handcuffs. And "not figurative handcuffs," <a href="http://hotair.com/archives/2009/11/09/video-if-obamacare-is-so-good/">Roskam said</a>, "actual criminal penalties." So, you <i>do</i> mean figurative handcuffs? Anyway, it's a good thing David Vitter sits in the U.S. Senate, because he would have probably been a little inappropriately interested in this presentation.
Michele Bachmann Get's Lei'd
Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann made the acquaintance of some hula dancing Teabaggers from Hawaii, and they brought her a lei, which Bachmann herself could obtain at the airport in Hawaii, were it not for the fact that she believes planes cannot fly over water without the use of witchcraft. Anyway, <a href="http://minnesotaindependent.com/49288/bachmann-lei-health-care-steve-israel-holocaust">she told Congress</a>, "I’m reminded that the one who created this lei also created our freedom. Are we so insensible to the high cost our forebearers paid to purchase our freedom?" So, the Hawaiian Bureau of Tourism created our freedom? I guess this is not supposed to make much sense.
Chuck Grassley, Dragon Slayer
<a href="http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-august-4-2009/chuck-grassley-s-debt-and-deficit-dragon">CLASSIC CHUCK GRASSLEY</a> (R-Iowa) here, as the Iowan mixed all the metaphors he had at his disposal to inveigh against health care reform: Sir Lancelot! Dragons! Painful weapons! Golden egg-laying geese! The whole thing was like having a Pear Of Anguish inserted into your brain. Unless, of course, you were Maddie -- John Shadegg's not-granddaughter -- who probably likes the pretty pictures!
Chuck Grassley Saw A Bill Murray Movie
More from Charles Grassley: "We should not legislate in a hasty manner and place ourselves in an infinite loop," says Grassley, apparently <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/anneschroeder/0608/Chuck_Grassley_is_a_Bill_Murray_fan.html">drawing the wrong lesson from Bill Murray's GROUNDHOG DAY</a>, in which said "infinite loop" allowed Bill Murray's character the chance to experience personal growth, so that he was no longer the sort of preening dick who'd waste the time of serious people with comparisons to movies he saw one night on Comedy Central.
Orrin Hatch Hates Robin Hood
Utah Republican Orrin Hatch LOVES HIM some children's tales, too, it seems. Thankfully, he kept his stories straight, <a href="http://www.brendan-nyhan.com/blog/2009/04/orrin-hatch-quotes-from-disneys-robin-hood.html">citing Robin Hood</a> as a way of discussing Obama's infernal plan to redistribute wealth in America. It's not clear that Hatch quite understands who would be the Sheriff of Nottingham in this metaphor. But look, just be thankful Hatch didn't burst into an impromptu performance of Bryan Adams's "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You." Hatch, we remind you, fancies himself to be quite the singer.
Frank Lautenberg Is Sick Of These Star Wars
New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg <a href="http://rawstory.com/exclusives/byrne/lautenberg_judges_star_wars_519">compared then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's threat</a> to eliminate the Senate filibuster to Star Wars' Emperor Palpatine's efforts to destroy galactic freedom, murder the Jedi and crush "terrorism" with the Death Star. Flash forward to today, and suddenly the elimination of the Senate filibuster doesn't seem like such a bad idea, eh, Senate Democrats?
George Voinovich: Prop Master
When it comes to Congressional visual aids, the master of the form is Ohio Republican George Voinovich, who was the Jean-Michel Basquiat of poster-board-based metaphorical imagery. Check out all that elaborate work! The lovingly rendered "Emperor's New Clothes," the detailed Wheel of Fortune, the G4 Channel courting Pac Man nonsense...<a href="http://www.politico.com/click/stories/0911/charting_the_course.html">we're going to miss the senator when he retires</a>. But you know who won't miss him? The poor interns who had to build this crap.