The United States Congress has reached a new low in callous disregard for the people of this country. One would hope a price would be paid for failing to stop the budget sequestration before dramatic cuts in programs began to kick in, but given the realities of our political system, only common citizens, not politicians, are likely to suffer as a result of this mess.
Unwisely, during one of the manufactured budget crises of 2011, President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner agreed that the penalty for failing to reach a comprehensive budget agreement by the end of 2012 would be automatic, across-the-board budget cuts. Their foolish assumption was that no one would be stupid enough to let such a thing happen. As it turns out, plenty of our elected officials are, indeed, that stupid.
Much of the stupidity – though certainly not all – has been exhibited by the most conservative members of the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate, the so-called tea party Republicans. So intent are they on whittling government down to the size it was back in the days of McKinley and the Robber Barons that even the prospect of major cuts in the defense budget did not phase them. Other steep cuts in dollars for scientific and medical research, education, hunger programs, national parks, infrastructure maintenance, food inspection, airport security and a host of other small but useful governmental activities caused them zero concern since, in the tea party version of reality, all those things are simply more big, bad government.
In the last few days, I’ve seen anecdotal evidence about how the cuts are going to hit real Americans – a nephew who has a new job with an import/export firm anticipating a drop in business because federal inspection and approval processes will be stalled; a first-year teacher who may not get a second-year contract because of federal education funding cuts; Navy shipyard workers facing furloughs and small businesses in the surrounding communities losing customers as a result; a research university retrenching and cutting jobs because federal funding will no longer be there. In most communities throughout the country, such stories will be repeated thousands of times in the coming months if nothing changes in Washington.
Too ignorant to understand the damage they are doing, zealots on the right are congratulating themselves for being so bold and principled. Yet, as irresponsible as Republicans have proven to be, Democrats are not without blame. There are more than a few on their side of the aisle who are pleased that the military budget has taken a big whack. Never before would Republicans have allowed such a thing to happen, so Democrats who have long wanted to reduce the Pentagon’s bloated budget see this as a bit of a gift.
The problem is that cutting in this manner, indiscriminately and with no focus, is simply a terrible idea. The jobs that will be lost among the military’s civilian employees will boost the unemployment numbers, just like any other jobs. Communities that are most severely affected by reductions in defense programs will suffer just as much as communities that lose factories.
If the federal budget is going to be reduced and reallocated, the task needs to be done intelligently and with the full understanding that federal dollars fertilize every aspect of the U.S. economy. Republicans and Democrats in Congress should have been in high gear trying to avoid this self-inflicted damage, but both sides looked way too relaxed as the budget ax fell.