This is chapter twelve of “The Sky is Falling,” authored by Democrats in the House and Senate who opposed the 2011 Budget Control Act and the threat of the sequester it brought about. They warned that the economy would falter if the sequester came to pass. The Republicans, who hold the majority in the House, warned that the economy would fall if America did not pass a dramatic austerity program. Their tea party members refused to raise the debt ceiling unless there were what they considered to be appropriate cuts to spending and what Democrats considered to be draconian cuts to spending. As America hung on the verge of default, and the tea party in the Republican Caucus refused to yield, the Democratic majority in the Senate and President Obama agreed to the Budget Control Act.
The deal was that there would be a “supercommittee” that would find the spending cuts, but if they could not compromise, the deep cuts would be spread equally between defense and domestic programs. Everyone just knew, just was positive, that the unthinkable would never happen, that Republicans would blink on defense and Democrats would blink on drastic cuts to everything else, and that there would be compromise. But there wasn’t, and now the sky might actually fall right on our nation’s economic recovery. Last quarter is the first time that the nation’s economy has shrunk in almost 40 months, and the reason is the impending sequester, with its deep and irrational cuts that require lay-offs, slow-downs and freezes. When you demand that the federal government spend at least 9% less across-the-board this year, and you don’t even have specific targets, you will have a lot of unintended and unwelcome consequences, ranging from defense to medical research to education to transportation programs, etc. Those politicians who kept insisting that the government does not create jobs now have to watch their friends, family, and constituents who work for the government or rely on federal contracts face lay-offs, and they will see companies lose business and profits. The consequences of deep cuts are upon us.
The Defense Department has been sounding the alarm more than other Departments. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been going before Congress—the very ones who created this mess—and talking about the damage the sequester will do. In a letter to Senator John McCain, the Ranking Member of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, Secretary Panetta wrote, “Such a large cut, applied in this indiscriminate manner, would render most of our ship and construction projects unexecutable—you cannot buy three quarters of a ship or a building—and seriously damage other modernization efforts. We would also be forced to separate many of our civilian personnel involuntarily, and, because the reduction would be imposed so quickly, we would almost certainly have to furlough civilians in order to meet the target.” Panetta goes on to say that this would “seriously damage readiness.” What he is talking about here is national security and jobs. Is anyone listening yet? Everyone knows there are savings to be had in the Department of Defense, but we should target those cuts so we do not jeopardize security or jobs.
While Secretary Panetta is warning the country about our national security, the sequester is threatening other programs and jobs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says in a report that sequestration would be “deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments, and core government functions.”
We need to stop this impending sequestration. We need to find a compromise that allows us to gradually reduce spending, while we find revenue from closing loopholes, reforming the tax code, and going after waste, fraud, and inefficiency. There are other suggestions as well. We could add a public plan to the health insurance exchanges. We could require the government to negotiate the price of prescription drugs for Medicare Part D. We could raise the cap on Social Security.
But there is very little action on Capitol Hill to do just that. Even if we wanted to discuss it, we cannot, because the House is not actually in Washington, DC very often these days.
Sequester will hurt our economy in New Hampshire. It will hurt our national economy. It will lead to lay-offs, and it will create more misery for the middle class and the poor. Congress has spoken. Now they need to listen. It is time to stop the sequester and create a viable plan that reduces spending gradually and keeps the economy growing.
Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represents New Hampshire’s First District. She previously served the District from 2007-2011, and she was reelected in the November 2012 election. The Congresswoman is again serving on the House Armed Services Committee and the Natural Resources Committee.