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Spending cuts totaling $1.2 trillion will hurt, unless Congress acts to stop sequestration

Sequestration used to refer to locking away valuable property for safekeeping while a dispute over ownership was resolved. But Congress has commandeered the term and applied it to the federal budget. We’re hearing more about sequestration now because of the threatened $1.2 trillion sequester—automatic cuts that will take place over a 10-year period—brought about by the failure of the so-called supercommittee (the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction) to achieve the savings required by last year’s debt ceiling law. 

There are some very large programs that are exempt from the sequestration process—like Social Security and some parts of the defense budget—but that means resulting cuts are bigger for the remaining programs. In the past, other sequestration cuts were so difficult and controversial that Congress didn’t allow them to happen and instead raised the budget spending caps. This latest sequestration may prove the exception. If Congress does nothing, on Jan. 2, 2013, the required cuts to federal programs will seriously harm state government programs as well.

According to an analysis on GovernmentExecutive.com of an Office of Management and Budget report on the effects of sequestration, it “would impose cuts of 9.4 percent in nonexempt defense discretionary funding and 8.2 percent in nonexempt, nondefense discretionary funding. A 2 percent cut would hit Medicare providers, 7.6 percent would affect other nonexempt nondefense mandatory programs, and 10 percent would be applied to nonexempt defense mandatory programs.” While the Department of Education is working to see that cuts to its programs don’t get implemented until the 2013-14 school year, education will still suffer. There also will be an impact on programs for the neediest and most at risk. That includes the Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program and even support for shelters provided under the Violence Against Women Act.

One specific example of the possible ripple effect of the cuts is the projection that across-the-board cuts could eliminate enough federal beef inspectors that up to 1 million pounds of tainted beef could reach our grocery shelves.

In a letter calling on Congress to avoid sequestration, the National Labor Caucus of State Legislators says the automatic budget cuts—especially to state aid—would mean even more layoffs of public sector workers.

The OMB sequestration report notes: “As the Administration has made clear, no amount of planning can mitigate the effect of these cuts. Sequestration is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument. It is not the responsible way for our Nation to achieve deficit reduction.”

The OMB report points out that the “President has already presented two proposals for balanced and comprehensive deficit reduction, but under our Constitution, he cannot do the job alone. Congress also needs to act. The Administration remains ready to work with Congress to enact a balanced plan that achieves at least the level of deficit reduction agreed to in the [Budget Control Act], and cancels the sequestration.”

 WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Check out the OMB report on sequestration.

See a brief analysis from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In addition:

  • Find out what jobs in your bargaining unit are supported by federal funds;
  • Discuss the impact with affected members;
  • Educate members about the importance of the federal budget—and how any cuts in funding will affect public budgets at the state and local levels; and

Call your members of Congress and let them know that sequestration has a real effect on the lives of citizens, giving examples from your membership.