July 27, 2013

Our View: Sequester forces cuts in the wrong places

Automatic reductions offer political cover, but they don't address the deficit's real causes.

Seeds planted in the crazy summer of 2011, when tea party Republicans in Congress threatened to force the United States to default on its debts, continue to sprout in troubling ways.

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In Washington, no serious attempt has been made to restructure sequestration so that it doesn’t hit those in need the hardest.

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Charlie Wynott of Westbrook, a disabled man living with AIDS, was informed recently that due to sequestration -- automatic budget cuts created by the president and Congress designed to force a deficit reduction deal -- his rent voucher will be reduced for the second time this year.

According to a story on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Wynott lives on $700 a month in Social Security, of which he pays $100 toward his rent. He also uses that stipend to buy his food and pay his utility bills. He can't afford an additional $70 a month.

Wynott did not create the deficit. He did not start two wars on the nation's credit card. He did not speculate on real estate bringing down the whole economy. His rent voucher is not breaking the bank.

But because of the way the sequester was designed, he will have to pay the price -- or, more likely, his landlord will probably have to pay because Wynott can't.

No one in Washington said that putting sick people out on the street was the answer to the nation's fiscal problems.

Few in Washington have anything positive to say about sequestration. But for the last four months, there has been no serious attempt to make more reasonable cuts that do not affect people in need.

The secret may be that sequestration may hurt people who need help, but helps people in power.

The cuts reduce deficit projections, taking pressure off the issue. The destructive cuts happen automatically, and no one takes responsibility for them.

House Republicans are again threatening a showdown this fall on the debt ceiling, promising that unless they get more concessions on spending, they will not allow the government to pay back its debts.

These fights take a toll on our fragile economy. Freezing discretionary spending means fewer federal employees spending in our communities, resulting in less economic activity when the recovery is already too slow. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, ending the sequester would boost the economy's growth rate by 0.7 percent, adding 900,000 jobs. (The report also said that it would lead to long-term debt problems if not offset by other cuts.)

The United States does not need an austerity program. What's required is reasonable tax policy that adequately funds the government. Congress and the White House should be looking for ways to restructure the debt without hurting people like Charlie Wynott.

 

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