Unless Washington does something (plenty more on that below) the sequester cuts will hit on March 1st. What are they? Why are they? What are legislators doing about them? The answers may shock you. Here is everything you need to know about the sequester cuts:
1. The sequester cuts are spending cuts that are designed to be bad.
Yes, that's right, these cuts were designed with little in mind other than to be policy that no one wanted. What the f*$#, you ask? Well, as you might have noticed, Congress has trouble passing bills, even ones that used to be easy like appropriations bills or raising the debt ceiling. But, back in July 2011, House Republicans decided to take a stand on raising the debt ceiling unless they got everything on their list of demands. What resulted from that mess was the poorly named "fiscal cliff" which was due to hit on New Year's Day of this year. The fiscal cliff was a self-induced hostage situation: either Republicans and Democrats strike some sort of deal, or taxes go up on the rich (to Clinton-era levels) and spending is cut by $1.2 trillion in a haphazard way. This is not $1.2 trillion of government spending that has been identified as wasteful by internal audits or anything like that. Good cuts wouldn't make a good hostage. Instead, these cuts were designed to hurt enough that Congress will be prodded into making a deal. The "resolution" to the fiscal cliff meant that the cuts got put off until March 1st.
2. The sequester cuts are voluntary and don't need to happen.
As stated above, the sequester is a self-induced crisis because Washington operates these days by striking last minute deals to avoid their most recent self-induced crisis. Republicans (save a few) and Democrats both believe that the sequester cuts would be a disaster for our economy and national defense. So, what could they do to prevent this disaster? Vote to have it not happen. Poof. Problem gone. If the sequester cuts happen, know that it's because Congress refused to just vote to prevent them.
3. Here is how the $1.2 trillion in cuts breaks down (includes an excellent chart).
Here is the big picture sequester breakdown: $500 billion in cuts to defense, $700 billion in cuts to domestic programs. The broadness of those terms might disguise how brutal these cuts would be, so here are a few details:
-- 70,000 children would get kicked out of early childhood intervention programs that help poorer children catch up to middle-class peers, heading into kindergarten.
-- 1,000 fewer criminals would be prosecuted due to furloughed federal prosecutors.
-- 4 million fewer "Meals on Wheels" would be delivered to the elderly.
-- 1,000 fewer research grants would be awarded, cutting research and laboratories for some 12,000 scientists and students.
$4.1 billion in education funds would go out the window. Here is how those break down. ESEA stands for Elementary and Secondary Education:
Look at that and then ask yourself if you think education is getting enough funding right now.
4. It is generally believed that the sequester cuts would badly damage the economy and possibly send us back into a recession.
Economic stability and recovery lives and dies with jobs. Like it or not, the government employs millions of people from policy analysts to army generals to teachers and fire fighters. If you cut the country's largest employer's spending budget by $1.2 trillion, you automatically (and arbitrarily) cut thousands of jobs.
5. Don't worry. I'm a blogger, and I have the solution.
Democrats would agree to a simple cancelling of the sequester cuts, but Republicans won't. Republicans would agree to most of the domestic cuts, preserving defense spending, but Democrats won't take that deal. The sequester is coming, what should we do?
How about this: cancel all cuts and do a full audit of the government.
Republicans really want to cut the deficit, but with a Democratic Senate and President, all they can really do is take the government hostage with artificial crises and extract what cuts they can. What would be much better policy, and far more agreeable to Democrats and voters is a systematic hard look at everything the government does to see where it's wasting money. This would create jobs in the short run (that audit won't be cheap) and create a well thought out blueprint for a sensible way to cut government spending.
I think that's a win-win-win deal (Republicans-Democrats-good policy). Someone tell me why that's wrong, and if no one can, someone introduce that bill in Congress.