It is March 1, and we now have the sequester to ponder. Though we took a flying leap and have landed at the bottom, Congress can undo the sequester by replacing it with a more responsible and balanced approach to deficit reduction during negotiations for the current fiscal year that ends in October.
Thursday, in a last-ditch effort to avert sequestration, both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate proposed and voted down two different sequestration-replacement bills. With no other plans to replace the sequester, across-the-board spending cuts were allowed to go into effect today.
The Democrat’s bill would have replaced sequestration, during what remains of fiscal year 2013, with a balanced mix of revenues and spending cuts. It would have spared important non-defense discretionary programs that help low-income working families, seniors and people with disabilities, while asking wealthy families and corporations to pay a little more.
The Republican’s proposal, on the other hand, would have kept the same level of spending cuts in the sequester and would have given the President flexibility to distribute the cuts among affected programs, allowing him to spare the Pentagon some of the pain of the cuts if he so chose to, by cutting less from defense and more from non-defense domestic programs—or even currently exempt programs, such as social security. The Republican plan would have also prohibited tax or fee increases.
If the sequester remains in place, it will pose a tough challenge to domestic programs that benefit many low- and middle-income families. The new cuts (amounting to $85 billion for the current fiscal year, alone) come on top of already painful spending cuts that were implemented under the Budget Control Act of 2010. Unless replaced by a balanced bill that includes revenues, there is little hope that these cuts can be implemented without impacting the lives and well-being of families who are struggling to get by, or who have lost part of their incomes due to unemployment.
In Michigan, the impact of sequestration will be hard for many struggling households, children, seniors and disabled individuals. Schools and students will suffer, as will Michiganians who receive nutrition, housing, heating and cooling, and other types of assistance. Michiganians who have been unemployed for longer than 20 weeks and are receiving federal extended unemployment insurance will see a reduction in their monthly payments of about 11%, or roughly $130 per month. Around 10,000 civilian Department of Defense employees in Michigan could be furloughed, reducing their combined gross pay by almost $68 million. These are just some of Michiganians who will be affected. In the end, the vast majority of Michigan families will feel the impact of sequestration in one way or another.
As Members of Congress finalize the budget for FY2013, they must take a balanced approach that includes savings from the revenue side of the budget and avoids harmful cuts in important investments in WIC, Head Start, Title I, Special Education, extended unemployment insurance, Low Income Home Energy Assistance, the Social Services Block Grant (which funds Meals on Wheels), the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the Community Development Block Grant, and other programs that provide important services to Michigan people and communities. How Members of Congress address the sequester now will set an important precedent for future deficit reduction. That’s why it’s important to take a balanced approach now.