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Jerry Lanson Headshot

Sequester Will Snip at Safety Net and Our Safety Alike

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Alamy
Alamy

Can we please stop referring to Republican "conservatism" and call the party's philosophy and actions what they truly are? I vote for "destructionism," a mix of obstructing and dismantling.

Some context. On Wednesday night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow did a nifty segment called "Chart Imitates Life." Using federal Bureau of Labor Statistics charts, she noted that the number of jobs at all levels of government combined increased under the presidencies of both Bushes and Bill Clinton. But they have decreased under Barack Obama in spite of increased demands for government assistance created by the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

Nonetheless, our profoundly intransigent Republican-led Congress appears hellbent on standing pat next week as a truly stupid law, passed a couple of years ago as a place holder, hacks government programs indiscriminately with a meat cleaver March 1. So far the GOP hasn't so much as considered a compromise that would replace this bad legislation with a mix of more targeted spending cuts and new, targeted tax revenues raised by cleaning up our disgraceful tax code.

Call it glory in the name of mindless principle. Call it one bloody mess.

It takes but common sense to realize that cutting government jobs in a slow economy is bad arithmetic, as Bill Clinton might say. Weak economies cause new safety-net needs. Existing government jobs help meet these, and, just as importantly, keep money in the workers' pockets so they can spend and help the economy turn, if ever so slowly. Cutting government jobs and programs creates fewer people with money to spend, gives business less reason to produce new products, and create disincentives to private-sector spending and hiring.

Now let's look at the so-called sequester, an utterly half-assed measure passed by both parties during one of their "push-it-down-the-road" face-offs in 2011. The law was presumed so ridiculous neither party figured it would ever take effect. With a few exceptions, it slashes government spending across the board with no attempt to measure program quality or effectiveness in the process. Defense spending takes the biggest hit, the reason Democrats never thought Republicans would allow the sequester to stand. It will throw poor people onto the streets and could throw our airports and law enforcement and defense agencies into chaos.

But today's GOP, while attempting to blame Democrats for a horrible law for which both parties voted, refuses to compromise one iota on a solution that would mix spending cuts and adjustments to the tax code to make it fairer and raise some offsetting revenue. Period. End discussion.

And so, come March 1, the government will begin a series of cuts that are both sharp and thoughtless. It will be forced to cleave $85 billion from discretionary spending in seven months and will then deepen these cuts for years to come.

So how does that translate? Here is a bit of what The New York Times wrote in an excellent editorial titled "The Real Cost of Shrinking Government," which estimates the sequester will eliminate 1 million jobs over the next two years. It's shorter-term impact includes:

  • 600,000 women and children who will lose food and nutrition under the Women, Infant and Children program.
  • 14,000 Head Start teachers and school employees laid off
  • furloughs of up to three weeks a year for every FBI officer
  • 2,100 fewer food safety inspections
  • 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration workers who will be furloughed each day, causing flight backups.
  • Deferred maintenance on hundreds of military ships and planes.

And that's the tip of the iceberg.

Compromise requires rational minds. And the Tea Party is not rational. Republican Party hero Ronald Reagan cut income tax rates sharply, but when he took office in 1980, the top rate was 70 percent. Today? The tax rate is half that or less for anyone earning less than $400,000 a year. That's after this January's Obama "tax hikes," which actually eliminated a tiny sliver of the Bush tax cuts.

America's largest corporations pay next to nothing in taxes because of disgraceful loopholes that legalize the equivalent of laundering profits offshore.

Republican President Richard Nixon, not known as a liberal in his time, among other things signed the Environmental Protection Agency into place, an agency today's Republicans want to eviscerate or eliminate. And his GOP predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, warned about the growing "military-industrial complex," a concept neither Democrats nor Republicans would dare examine critically in today's mega-armed world.

My point, particularly for my Republican friends, is that this is not the party of our parents or grandparents.

Today's so-called GOP conservatism is actually a radical irrationalism. Its Tea Party agenda setters tell us climate change doesn't exist, that rape doesn't cause pregnancy, and that the Second Amendment guarantees Americans the right to own personal assault weapons. Too often, they do not operate in a world of reason, reality or give-and-take. And yet, through the gerrymandering of congressional districts and other election shenanigans, the far right is holding a clear majority of Americans -- including that endangered species, the moderate Republican -- hostage.

Perhaps you still consider the dire warnings of the sequester's impact so-much politicking? We'll soon see.

The stock market already shown some wobbliness in anticipation. The economy will soon follow. All this just so the GOP can stand firm by a philosophy of small government and spending cuts that has failed before in this country, and, when tried more recently in such European countries as Ireland, England and Greece, has made matters there worse.

If Americans want a functioning government again, I fear they have but one choice. They need to vote in two years in the midterm elections and regain Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Otherwise we seem doomed to founder about like a motorboat with a dead engine in rough seas.

For now, just hold on tight.