Stan Voit: Sequestration tough, but it’s what US needs

Feb. 25, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

You have to wonder if this country’s national leaders ever will see their way clear to significant cuts to the federal budget.

With this so-called sequestration looming, and with it budget cuts to almost all federal programs and agencies, we have the lobbyists and representatives of almost every affected organization screaming about what those cuts will do to them and the people they serve.

The National Parks Conservation Program has been sending us emails several times a week, claiming to have leaked, inside information on what the cuts will do to the parks, especially the Smokies. Many in Congress and in the Defense Department worry about what the budget cuts will do to the military and our readiness.

We hear about the impact of sequestration on Head Start, schools, airport traffic controllers, food inspectors and security personnel. We are warned about what will happen to unemployment benefits, the cost of food, Meals on Wheels and hurricane damage repairs.

The idea of raising these issues is to convince President Obama and Congress to stop or delay the $85 billion in budget cuts, scheduled to go into effect March 1. The repercussions warned about are dire, from sending us back into a recession to driving up the unemployment rate to creating a sour mood in the country at a time when things were looking good.

Those are all legitimate concerns. But if we blink now, when, if ever, are we going to get serious about cutting federal spending? Assuming we all agree it has to be done, then if we won’t do it when forced to, then we won’t do it when we have options.

As Hillel, the great Jewish religious leader in the years before Christ, famously said, “If not now, when?”

Washington, in its great buck-passing tradition, set up these automatic budget cuts to go into effect so they wouldn’t have to get their hands dirty dealing with it. Yet every time they stare into the abyss, they back down and approve a stop-gap measure that delays permanent action for months more. Now we are at another impasse, and the agencies affected are clamoring for time to make their case about what will happen to them if the sequestration hits.

I am sympathetic to their plight. I don’t want long lines at airports, a national park with closed trails and insufficient personnel, locks on the doors of Head Start centers, delays in people getting benefits. But I also do not want a country driven further into debt because the people we elect can’t agree — compromise — in solving the problem.

Here we have an approaching, forced budget cut that, however painful, will still have some effect in reducing the deficit. Not enough, of course, but some. I say, let it happen. Bring it on.

As we get closer, though, one senses that pressure on members of Congress and the president will have an effect, that once again they’ll gather for some cork-in-a-bottle remedy that gets us through another crisis without addressing the problem.

Every federal agency has worth. Every organization that gets federal funding feels it has merit and deserves its place on a federal teat.

This newspaper is doing more with less, thanks to the recession and other factors. Most businesses I know are also operating with fewer employees and somewhat reduced services. When will the federal government do the same?

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky thinks sequestration doesn’t go far enough. He voted against it. He said this to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “Over 10 years, the budget will still grow $7 trillion to $8 trillion. He (President Obama) added $6 trillion to the debt in his first term. He’s on course to add another $4 trillion to $6 trillion in his second term. So, really, this is just really nibbling at the edges, and he’s saying, oh, it’s some dramatic thing where all of a sudden it’s still the rich’s fault. ... The budgets are not being decreased. We’re talking about cutting the rate of growth of budgets. ... This is not enough cuts.”

He may be right. Besides, “If not now, when?”

— Stan Voit is editor of The Mountain Press. His column appears each Sunday. He can be reached at 428-0748, ext. 217, or e-mail to Twitter: @stanvoit.