Friday, March 1, 2013

Ending the Sequester

I've been following the sequester issue and discussing it with some of my Republican friends.  I don't have access to the data that are available to Washington insiders, but here is my lay-person's assessment of the situation:
  • The Sequester was originally agreed upon by both parties in 2011 as a way of forcing them to take action regarding the deficit by today.
  • According to the Congressional Budget Office, here's how the whole thing nets out with regard to 2013 budget cuts:
    • Defense cuts: $42.7 billion
    • Medicare cuts: $9.9 billion
    • Cuts to other domestic programs: $32.7 billion
  • Other programs, such as Social Security, cannot be cut without additional legislation being enacted.
  • If, for some reason, the sequester were to continue, it would mandate $109 billion in cuts per year for the next nine years.
When I listen to many Republicans, they ask, "Why is it so hard to cut 3% waste from the national budget this year?  If Obama viewed his job like the CEO of a company, he should be able to do that."  This argument contains massive issues, such as:
  • The national budget has very little in common with that of a corporation, in that many programs (such as Social Security) cannot be cut at all without legislation, which may take months or years to enact.  If you eliminate the items that cannot be cut, it means you are asking the president to cut 6-7% of expenditures, primarily to defense and domestic programs.
  • Republicans reject most defense cuts, so the majority of the cuts they are asking the president to make are to domestic programs such as education, immigration reform (on which the Republicans insist), housing, health, and public safety (including airport security).
  • "Waste" is often synonymous with "employees," meaning that the Republicans would suggest putting hundreds of thousands of people out of their jobs in the fields I listed above.  This would not only hurt the economy, but affect the well-being of many in our society who need the most help.
The president has already said he is willing to cut 1-2% from many of these programs, but he is asking for additional tax revenue as well.  The Republicans view this as "raising taxes," to which they are staunchly (and somewhat understandably) opposed.  However, most of the president's revenue requests are not about "raising taxes."  Rather, they only eliminate the tax cuts for the very wealthy that were enacted during the Bush administration.  Elimination of these tax breaks, and other loopholes that enable wealthy citizens to skirt their tax obligations, would account for most of the additional revenue the president is requesting.

Republicans claim that such moves would hurt the economy, but from what I understand, dropping the Bush-era tax cuts would merely return the country to the tax levels that existed during the Clinton administration.  I don't remember too many people complaining about the economy during that time, and let's not forget that Clinton left office with a balanced budget (in fact, there was a budget surplus).

I just watched President Obama's news conference in which he asked for compromise on this issue; he is willing to cut some money from social programs and even open the dialogue around Social Security reform, if the Republicans are willing to reduce or eliminate the Bush-era tax cuts and eliminate some loopholes that benefit the wealthy.   THIS IS NOT RAISING TAXES.

I, as one small voice, ask congressional leaders to put the needs of the country, and of the people it serves, ahead of the interests of their wealthy donors.  Why?  I know this sounds corny (all hail Frank Capra) but they should do it because it's the right thing to do.

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