02/04/2013 11:24 am ET Updated Apr 06, 2013

Looming Sequester Cuts Threaten Public and Private Sector Workers

Anyone who thinks federal employees are more financially secure than the rest of us and are unnecessary doesn't understand how our government works and how much we indirectly rely on them.

Here's a case in point.

If Congress doesn't prevent the $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts over the next decade set to start in March, a female federal employee told me she will be furloughed one day for each 10 work day pay period. In short, her income would be cut by 10 percent on top of the pay freeze federal employees have endured for the last three years.

The economic suffering of federal employees caused by these so-called "sequester" spending cuts also would impact other Americans. The Office of Management and Budget concludes that: "...federal agencies will likely need to furlough hundreds of thousands of employees and reduce essential services such as food inspections, air travel safety, prison security, border patrols, and other mission-critical activities."

Private sector workers also would suffer. Over the next year alone, the sequester spending cuts, which would be split split equally between defense and domestic programs, will reduce personal earnings of the U.S. workforce by over $100 billion and cost our economy more than 2 million jobs, according to a report by the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

During the presidential campaign, Republican vice presidential nominee and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said he wanted to exempt the Pentagon from sequestration, either by finding offsets for the defense cuts only or by making domestic programs absorb the entire $1.2 trillion in cuts.

That's a bad idea because spending $1 billion in health care or education creates significantly more jobs within the U.S. economy than spending $1 billion on the military, according to a report by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts. In health care, it creates over 50 percent more jobs; in education, it creates nearly two-and-half times more jobs.

On the other hand, according to a Senate report, sequester spending cuts to education and health care over the next year alone would have devastating effects:

  • States and local communities would lose nearly $3 billion in federal funding for just three critical education programs that serve over 30 million children combined: Title I programs to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and meet state academic standards; special education state grants; and Head Start.
  • The sequester would cut nearly $900 million from the budget of the Social Security Administration, which administers the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, Disability Insurance, and Supplemental Security Income programs, and Medicare. As a result, this budget cut and continued loss of staff would force millions of Americans filing for retirement and disability benefits to wait longer for the benefits they've earned, and backlogs of those with pending disability claims and hearings could reach record levels.
Bottom line: the sequester would cause hundreds of thousands of Americans to lose their jobs, sacrifice the education of millions of children and delay retirement benefits for millions of Americans who can't afford to wait for them. And that's just a fraction of the sequester's economic impacts. Sadly, Congressman Ryan said on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday:

"I think the sequester is going to happen,"

while claiming that:

"If Mitt Romney and I won the election, they [the sequester cuts] would not have happened."

Millions of Americans who depend upon government-funded services deserve better than this kind of "sore loser" lack of leadership from our elected representatives. And so do the hundreds of thousands of government employees who deliver these vital services.