I came of age in a Republican household during the Reagan years. My dad, Joe Sr., was a small business owner who served as a committee man for the local party. My mom, Carmen, like most Cuban exiles of her generation, voted Republican down the ticket. When the family would gather around the dinner table and discuss current affairs, my brothers and I wouldn't always agree with our parents' politics, but we were taught from an early age to respect other people's views and keep an open mind because nobody has all the right answers.
This is a valuable lesson that has stuck with me, but it is one that many of my colleagues in Washington either never learned or have perhaps forgotten. The refusal of some in the Tea Party controlled Congress to compromise, learn from members of the other party, listen to reason, and put ideology and partisan politics aside has resulted in a government that is too often dysfunctional, reckless and irresponsible. From the debt ceiling, to the fiscal cliff and now the sequester, what we have is a Congress that governs and responds only to self-inflicted crises.
The consequences of sequestration are dire for Florida. Here are a few of the many examples of what they look like:
- Parents in neighborhoods like Kendall and Perrine will experience dramatic cuts in funding for Head Start and Early Head Start resulting in 2,700 fewer children in Florida from having access to those programs.
- Students at schools like FIU, FKCC and MDC will see cuts in work-study programs that help them pay for college.
- Florida will lose approximately $54.5 million in funding for primary and secondary education.
- Local hospitals that we all depend on will experience a loss of $368 million from cuts, potentially limiting first responders' capabilities to respond to heart attacks, strokes and other critical medical issues.
- Longer lines at Miami International Airport with as many as 31,000 civilian Department of Defense employees being furloughed throughout our state.
These aren't just numbers on a page. The sequester will impact the lives of millions of real people, such as our neighbors, grandparents, teachers, friends, and loved ones. The cuts that will go into effect if Congress does nothing are avoidable. There is a solution and a better way, but it's going to require hard work and a willingness to compromise -- two things that unfortunately are anathema to some in Washington. Consider the following: Despite these looming disastrous cuts, Congress was only in session for six of the 31 calendar days in January (about one day a week). Imagine how your boss would react if you only showed up to work one day a week. You probably wouldn't have that job for too long.
This is unacceptable to me and I know it is unacceptable to many of my colleagues from both parties. Just a few weeks ago, I joined a bipartisan coalition of over 20 members -- Republicans and Democrats, alike -- who are committed to avoiding the sequestration by working in a bipartisan manner and compromising. For Democrats, this means we are open to spending cuts so long as seniors can retire with dignity, receive the benefits they have paid for and have access to affordable, quality health care. For Republicans, this means they are willing to look at revenue increases so long as Democrats meet them half-way.
This framework is similar to how most people go about their lives. When you and your coworkers disagree, you don't stop showing up to work and take your company to the brink of disaster. Rather, you simply gather around a table, discuss your differences and find solutions. Not everyone will get what they want, but progress isn't held hostage at the expense of ideological purity. It's ironic that many of the same politicians who decry government for not operating more like the private sector have adopted a 'my way or the highway' approach to governing that would leave them fired, bankrupt or both in corporate America.
I hope my colleagues find it within themselves to compromise and learn how the rest of America works when people disagree and yet want to move forward. My family's dinner table is a great place to start.
Joe Garcia was elected in 2012 and represents Florida's 26th District in the United States House of Representatives