In Chicago, teachers took to the streets last week in the nation's largest labor strike in over a year, in part to the mayor's attempt to evaluate their performance based on test scores. As this story appeared over and over on the news, I began to think about what an evaluation of another group of public employees may unearth -- not teachers, but the performance and efficacy of our Congressmen and women. The output of this year's Congress is distressing at best, and unconscionable and outrageous at worst. No issue exemplifies the failures of the 112th Congress more than looming sequestration and the fiscal cliff. Perhaps even more distressing from Congress' failure to act on the duty they were sworn to do is the lack of outrage among my peers, and a missing demand for our elected officials to do their job. As a young voter, my peers and I are a key demographic - this year more than ever. It is time we step up and demand more.
Agreed upon last year by Democrats and Republicans alike, sequestration was supposed to be an incentive to come up with a budget plan through a "Super Committee" to reduce the government's massivedeficit. The impact of sequestration was to be so undesirable that representatives of both parties would do just about anything to avoid it. In short, it mandates an overall $1.2 trillion cut in spending over 10 years, with $110 billion of those cuts coming in 2013. The cuts would be split, 50/50, between defense and non-defense spending. They would result in an estimated U.S. Gross Domestic Product decrease of .5 percent, and the loss of over one million jobs in the next two years. This means that for all those recent graduates, the outlook will get even worse. But the "Super Committee" failed. And the consequences of sequestration are too dire to allow America's elected officials to fail in coming up with an alternative.
Without any action by Congress, sequestration will take effect on January 2, 2013. However, the fiscal year ends on September 30, and all Congress has done is pass a six-month, stop-gap budget measure to kick the decision can further down the road, and try to pass bills in the House that replace any defense spending cuts related to sequestration with further non-defense discretionary spending (though these bills have no chance of getting past the Senate, let alone the President). It seems that at least one body of Congress has decided to give up - the House announced on Friday that it was cutting back its work schedule in October, effectively taking the month off, putting off dealing with the significant financial crisis until later. To be fair: the Senate did show up to vote on some terribly important issues, including designating "Fall Prevention Day," -- just in case anyone was under the impression that falling wasn't dangerous to senior citizens. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for safety and the government working to keep people healthy, but I'm also growing a little concerned about my own financial health.
The arguments for doing away with cuts to defense have been deafening: from lobbyists and defense contractors stating they will be issuing pink slips days before the election, to claims that our forces will shrink to the brink of extinction. However, there has also been plenty of commentary disputing these assertions. Yet these arguments come from a small populace of analysts, lobbyists and those in the service. Much less discussed on Capitol Hill, let alone across the country, is the impact sequestration will have through non-defense discretionary spending cuts. However, it is the non-defense discretionary cuts that must be addressed, for these cuts may be far more harming to the people of America, and of my generation, than cuts to defense.
For example, global health funding comes from the tiny one percent of the federal non-defense discretionary budget devoted to diplomacy and development, and serious consequences of sequestration are already being seen in the field: due to a likely cut in funding, it was announced last month that all major research for an Ebola vaccine has been halted, pending a budget forecast later in the year. Vaccines for hemorrhaging fevers aside, cuts to the global health budget would also likely result in 62,000 more AIDS-related deaths, 6,000 more deaths from malaria, and 8,000 more TB-related deaths around the world. Given the recent destruction directed at U.S. Embassies, there may be added pressure to avoid cuts to defense spending, in favor of cutting from "soft" programs like diplomacy and development. However, funding for U.S. Embassies, including their security, comes from the State Department's budget -- which falls under non-defense discretionary spending.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) would perform admirably in my evaluation of Congress, as he released a comprehensive report on the impact non-defense spending cuts may have in an effort to encourage action.According to his report, there is a very real possibility for teachers to lose their jobs, education programs to lose funding, women to lose access to cancer screening, a reduction in the FBI and border patrol, and a shrinking of the number of air traffic controllers, among others. The Food and Drug Administration would not be able to test drugs and monitor the safety of the United States' food supply at the rate it is currently operating. Nearly 500,000 jobs in the healthcare industry would be lost in 2013 alone, with losses projected through 2021. This is not a future I envisioned for myself -- and it's not a future I would wager many other 20-somethings would be excited about. So where's the noise?
What has transpired in Washington is a dangerous game of budget chicken. Both parties remain hunkered down in their corners, eager to point fingers. This political gridlock is not something the American people, and especially that key voting demographic of young voters, should allow.
Sequestration was designed as the ultimate punishment, and will find a way to impact every person in America. Yet, it remains notably absent on the campaign trail. It would be a shame if representatives are allowed to remain planted in ideology, as opposed to actively and relentlessly working to find a suitable, common ground to address budgetary concerns while keeping Americans safe and secure in every possible way.
Anyone care to strike against Congress?