Friday, March 1, 2013

No government, no problem?

“Sequester” is the fancy name for federal spending cuts that automatically go into place when Congress is unable to achieve a federal budget. In simple terms, starting today, all federal government activity will get smaller.

Members of the radical right in Congress are practically giddy about the sequester and see it as an opportunity to achieve their goal of reducing the size of the government so far that it can practically be eliminated. Over the next few weeks, unless Congress changes course, we may all come to understand the real consequences of that goal.

Already, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the department in charge of those in the country illegally, has released an unspecified number of people from physical detention. Cuts mean there is too little money to feed and house detainees. Of course, having lawbreakers check in always works as well as incarceration to keep communities safe, right? 

Congress agreed not to make cuts for military personnel, but the sequester will eliminate funding for hundreds of thousands of civilian employees who feed those soldiers. Maybe soldiers will just have to pack their own lunches from now on.

The Department of Education, which has been a thorn in the side of right-wing radicals for years, will have to step back hard. Cutting federal oversight could mean that a family moving to, say, Oklahoma, might not find a teacher for their special-needs child because no federal auditors will be available to ensure that funding does not go to Oklahoma University football instead.

Over the years, spending cuts and revenue reductions have been structured so as to cause the least possible disruption for ordinary citizens. It was easy to see that the cuts and services lost had not been necessary in the first place.

This time, lawmakers should own up to what’s really at stake when they insist on spending and tax cuts only. For example, instead of cutting air traffic control at smaller airports in sparsely populated areas like southern Idaho, they should shut down one big tower, like Atlanta’s. They should close an expensive high-security prison like the one in Terre Haute, Ind., and close all the federal offices in one big city like Los Angeles.

Cuts in federal programs cause real pain. It’s high time our elected officials agree that we actually do need government, get back to the negotiating table, and work out the best ways for all of us to pay for what we need.

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