After months of doomsday predictions regarding the imminent enactment of across-the-board spending cuts, the sequester is finally set to go into effect this Friday.
The emergency cuts, which were part of a deal struck between Congress and President Barack Obama in 2011 to extend the United States’ borrowing authority and cut the budget deficit, will automatically trigger $85 billion in cuts set to affect areas of government spending from border patrol to education to defense.
Oddly, what has received much of the attention regarding this issue in the past few days is a warning by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about the potential impact of sequestration cuts on air travel, which he said could cause travelers to face longer flight delays and lines at security checkpoints as a result of cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Tough luck. Such scare tactics should not distract from the necessity of cutting excessive government spending and getting on track toward a sustainable and responsible federal budget. In fact, austerity measures resulting from the sequester might be just what lawmakers need to incentivize fiscal responsibility in the future.
LaHood was only one of many leaders to urge lawmakers to come to an agreement on an emergency plan, proposed by Senate Democrats, to avoid sequestration. The plan would raise taxes on the rich, slash federal agriculture subsidies and reduce defense spending after American troops fully withdraw from Afghanistan.
Senate Republicans, however, are refusing to accept any plan that increases taxes following their January concession to increase tax revenue for top-income brackets — a concession they made as part of a deal to avoid the most negative effects of the fiscal cliff. Though Democrats have the right idea regarding the cuts, the plan is unacceptable because of the proposition to increase revenue by slapping the rich with even higher taxes. Alleviating the budget crisis by punishing top-income earners for having more wealth is not only patently unfair and counterproductive to economic growth, but also ignores the root cause of the problem: irresponsible, wasteful government spending.
The only answer? Smart spending cuts across the board before we get to the point of automatic trigger cuts. Recognizing superfluous expenditures that are not absolutely vital to the function of government or national security is a good place to start cutting.
In an interview with MSNBC, LaHood denounced the sequester as taking a “meat ax approach” to the fiscal crisis. He used this rhetoric as part of a plug for the Democrats’ proposed plan, stating that it would “[save] the money that needs to be saved.”
Unfortunately, it is no longer about “saving” money. That would imply that the government has money to save. The budget deficit at the end of fiscal year 2012 was a staggering $1.1 trillion, an amount that constitutes over 70 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. According to the Congressional Budget Office, such a high percentage has not been seen since 1950.
These statistics reflect a dire situation, and, as such, an extreme response might be the best thing for moving toward a lasting solution. The sequester is not a sudden and unexpected political phenomenon. It has been a long time coming and is an unfortunate consequence of lawmakers’ failure to close our obscene federal budget deficit. Continuing to kick the proverbial can down the road is no longer an option, and lawmakers should use this as motivation to work toward a long-term budget solution.
It is easy for people to forget the need to fix the fiscal crisis if the government continues to enact 11th-hour budget deals, but the cuts that will come with sequestration will bring the urgency of the situation to the forefront of national discourse. Hopefully, this discourse will prompt the decisive action on this issue that has been so conspicuously absent in Washington during the past couple of years.
Sarah Cueva is a junior majoring in Middle East studies and political science. Her column “Homeland” runs Wednesdays.