By February 23, 2013 1 Comments Read More →

Sequestration Shenanigans

John Boehner is spending a lot of time and energy spreading disinformation about the looming sequestration. It seems as though he believes the American citizenry will be unable to recall or check what actually happened in 2011. Fortunately, he is wrong. There is a record of who did and said what in the legislative debacle that set the stage for the Sequestration calamity.

On August 1, 2011, the House passed the Budget Control Act of 2011. 174 Republicans or 73% of the House majority voted in favor of this bill which contained the provision that now confronts the Republic under the .label sequestration. On August 2, 2011, 60% of Senate Republicans voted for the Budget Control Act and thus for sequestration. In both chambers of Congress, 202 Republicans and 140 Democrats voted in favor of the Budget Control Act and sequestration. In percentage terms, Republicans supplied 59% of the votes needed to impose sequestration and the Democrats furnished 41%.

When he signed the Budget Control Act into law, President Obama stated: “Is this the deal I would have preferred? No. But this compromise does make a serious down payment on the deficit reduction we need, and gives each party a strong incentive to get a balanced plan done before the end of the year.” Speaker Boehner, on the other hand asserted: “When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the white House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.” Given the numbers of votes each party supplied for the law that imposes sequestration and the comments of the party leaders, which party has a larger share of historical responsibility for the threat of sequestration? If nearly six in ten votes for sequestration came from Republicans and the Republican leader claimed to have attained 98% of his desires while the Democratic leader says he did not prefer the deal, the Republicans are obviously the major players in imposing sequestration.

On February 20, 2013, in the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Boehner declares: “A week from now, a dramatic new federal policy is set to go into effect that threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more.” He then tries to explain the genesis of this threat as follows: “During the summer of 2011, as Washington worked toward a plan to reduce the deficit to allow for an increase in the federal debt limit, President Obama and I very nearly came to a historic agreement.” This is a brazen distortion of what was happening in the referenced time period. Washington was not “working toward a plan to reduce the deficit.” Mr. Boehner and the President were not engaged in some proactive collaboration to achieve a good faith solution. Democrats were struggling to rescue the full faith and credit of the United States which was being held for ransom by Mr. Boehner and fanatical ideologues in the House. These brigands were loudly proclaiming their readiness to crash the global economy and were impervious to warnings and appeals to reason. In the spring of 2011, Michael Simpson a Republican member of the House observed ‘raising the debt limit is the burden of the majority.” No matter which party is in the majority, it has always been their responsibility to call up the debt limit vote and whip their membership to get it passed. In 2011, however, the Republicans bucked that trend and precipitated a crisis by seriously contending that government should default on its obligations, or the debt limit increase should include hundreds of billions in spending cuts and preserve the Bush-era tax rates while the Democratic Party should furnish a majority of votes to pass the debt limit increase.

In the absence of this radical maneuver, there would have been no crisis in the summer of 2011 and there would be no sequestration time bomb ticking toward explosion now. Incidentally, prior to the first session of the 112th Congress, Republicans had provided the majority of votes to increase the debt limit five out of five times they were the majority under President Bush. In the five times they were in the minority, they provided zero votes three times, 45 votes once and 91 votes in the face of the economic catastrophe of 2008. So over the last ten debt ceiling increases prior to the summer of 2011, the majority party in the House provided the majority of votes to raise the debt limit ten out of ten times. When fanatics gained power after the 2010 elections, the Republican House majority abandoned this well entrenched practice of responsible governance. Worth noting, also, is the sudden drop off in Republican support in the Senate for raising the debt ceiling as soon as Obama took office. Under Bush the Republicans provided, on average, 39 of the 50 votes that were generally needed to raise the debt ceiling. But under Obama, the Republicans have provided only 1 vote on average each of the three times the Senate has voted on it. In both chambers of Congress, Republicans clearly operate on a partisan basis when it comes to raising the debt ceiling. The same is true of the loudly expressed Republican demands that spending be cut by massive amounts. It is all a partisan charade.

As bad as the shyster lawyering Republicans are attempting on the issue of responsibility for the sequestration improvised explosive device [IED] is the underlying rationale is even worse. Austerity is not a solution. It is a threat looking for a populace to harm. If the Republicans want to responsibly discharge their duty to govern, they should [1] lift the debt ceiling without preconditions, [2] cancel the sequester and quit dithering about the authorship of this deranged idea, and [3] negotiate in good faith with open minds about appropriations for the rest of the fiscal year.

The miserly mentality of the debt and deficit obsessed is recommending remedies no more helpful than leeches and patent medicines. In fact, the cut, cut, school of politics would inflict serious harm on the economy if it ever succeeded in getting its way. Debt and deficits are not the major problems facing America now. The sluggish economy and the chronically high unemployment are the twin demons undermining prosperity and unity in our country today. More than 20 million people are in need of full-time work. Wages are historically low and corporate profits higher than ever as a portion of the economy. America has a jobs crisis, and a wealth distribution crisis.

Deficits aren’t rising; they are falling faster than any time since the end of World War II. We need to focus on getting the economy going, not on more austerity. We need to get our economy working. We don’t need to slash programs for the most vulnerable.

No Cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid Benefits are needed or advisable. Politicians must go after what hurts the economy, not what helps families. If there is more deficit reduction, it should focus first on cutting what gets in the way of a more equitable distribution of income, not on cutting what millions depend on. Revenue can be raised without hitting the middle class. A financial transaction tax would generate billions while helping to curb Wall Street gambling. Shutting down overseas tax havens would give companies incentives to invest at home. Cutting subsidies to big oil would end wasting resources on the most profitable corporations in history. Ending wars and right-sizing the military would use money wisely and the savings could be invested at home to set our priorities straight.

The Senate Appropriations Committee asked the heads of 20 federal agencies to explain what would happen if sequestration took effect. If these people are to be believed, disastrous consequences await the triggering the automatic, across-the-board cuts known as “sequestration.”

Sequestration should have already happened, but Congress and President Obama gave themselves two extensions. When Congress missed its Jan. 15, 2012 deadline to approve a broad package of spending cuts, sequestration was triggered, slated to begin Jan. 2, 2013. But both sides agreed they could have until the cuts were actually supposed to take effect, providing another (election) year for negotiations. On the day of the deadline, however, Washington granted itself another extension. Along with their agreement to extend most of the Bush-era tax rates, Congress approved legislation to extend the sequestration deadline to March 1, and the President signed this bill into law. Therefore, March 1 is not a date carved in stone. The initiation of sequestration can be delayed or even completely cancelled. Our political leaders have a choice and they have made choices which have brought the nation to the precipice.

It is essential that people understand and acknowledge that the recurrent crises in government are not the effects of external and real causes. These crises are the effects of deliberate actions and conscious choices by people elected to positions of authority in the federal government. For more than thirty years, the Republican Party has vilified the federal government and treated it as a hostile entity to be starved and shrunken until it can “be drowned in a bathtub.” They have waged a relentless propaganda campaign and have taken office under false pretenses. Every federal official is elected or appointed to govern responsibly, but the vast majority of Republicans take office with the avowed intent to frustrate, obstruct, and sabotage governance at the federal level. This reality is obscured by a prevalent conventional wisdom: “The idea that wisdom is always to be found at the precise midpoint between what Democrats and Republicans are saying is a particular Washington curse, accompanied by its pox-on-both-their-houses handmaiden, the idea that both parties are always equally guilty of whatever sins are currently being committed in politics.” This prevailing perspective is factually erroneous and woefully wrong.

While Congress has the power to cancel the sequestration, it has yet to do so. As things now stand beginning March 1, 2013, the following adverse consequences are rushing toward realization. If no sensible action is taken, here is what the agency heads warned will occur under a full year of budget sequestration:

“In separate letters to Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., they warned of terrible things: Greater risk of wildfires, fewer OSHA inspections and a risk of more workplace deaths, 125,000 people risking homelessness with cuts to shelters and housing vouchers, neglect for mentally ill and homeless Americans who would lose services, Native Americans getting turned away from hospitals, cuts to schools on reservations and prison lockdowns. There’s also a higher risk of terrorism with surveillance limited and the FBI potentially unable to disrupt plots, closed housing projects, and 600,000 women and children thrown off WIC.”
According to the heads of federal agencies in the absence of responsible, timely action by Congress, the country is in real and serious trouble.

In a February 21, 2013, report Chris Good of ABC News details “57 terrible consequences” of sequestration. The full list and descriptions can be found here: Some highlights include:

1. Air Travel Disruption
a. “The furlough of a large number of air traffic controllers and technicians will require a reduction in air traffic to a level that can be safely managed by the remaining staff. The result will be felt across the country, as the volume of travel must be decreased. Sequestration could slow air traffic levels in major cities, which will result in delays and disruptions across the country during the critical summer travel season. Aviation safety employees also would experience significant furloughs that will affect airlines, aviation manufacturers, and individual pilots, all of which need FAA safety approvals and certifications.”

2. Longer Security Lines at Airports
a. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: “Funding and staffing reductions will increase wait times at airports, affect security between land ports of entry, affect CBP’s [Customs and Border Patrol] ability to collect revenue owed to the Federal Government, and slow screening and entry programs for those traveling into the United States. … The Transportation Security Administration would reduce its frontline workforce, which would substantially increase passenger wait times at airport security checkpoints.”

3. Slower Extreme Weather Forecasts
a. Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca M. Blank warned: “The government runs the risk of significantly increasing forecast error and, the government’s ability to warn Americans across the country about high impact weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, will be compromised. … Significant and costly impacts to NOAA’s satellites and other observational programs are also certain. For example, sequestration will result in a 2-3 year launch delay for the first two next-generation geostationary weather satellites (currently planned to launch in 2015 and 2017), which track severe weather events such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

4. Greater Risk of Wildfires
a. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned: “Increased risk to communities from wildfires with as much as 200,000 fewer acres treated for hazardous fuels” were among the consequences he listed in his letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

5. Nationwide Meat and Poultry Shortages
a. After furloughs to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, meat and poultry plants will have to shut down, as no one will be around to inspect their products. These furloughs could result in as much as 15 days of lost production, and roughly $10 billion in production losses. Industry workers would experience over $400 million in lost wages. Consumers would experience limited meat and poultry supplies, and potentially higher prices, and food safety could be compromised.”

6. Fewer FBI Agents
a. FBI would furlough personnel for up to 14 days, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote: “This would have the equivalent effect of cutting approximately 2,285 onboard employees, including 775 special agents.”

7. Neglect for Mentally Ill, Homeless, and Substance Addicted
a. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius warned in a Feb. 1 letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee: “Sequestration could compromise the health and well-being of more than 373,000 seriously mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed children who potentially would not receive needed mental health services, which could result in increased hospitalizations and homelessness.” In addition, we expect that 8,900 homeless persons with serious mental illness might not receive the vital outreach, treatment and housing, and supports that they need to help in their recovery process. Admissions to inpatient facilities for people in need of critical addiction services could be reduced by 109,000, and almost 91,000 fewer people could receive substance abuse treatment services.”

8. 600,000 Women and Children Thrown Off WIC
a. The low-income nutrition assistance program would see cuts, too. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned of “a reduction of 600,000 low-income women and children who could receive nutrition assistance and associated nutrition education and breastfeeding support through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants (WIC).”

9. Higher Risk of Terrorism a. FBI Director Mueller wrote to the Senate Appropriations Committee: “Counterterrorism operations and investigations would be impacted by the loss of investigative, intelligence, and other personnel needed to identify and assess individuals with known or suspected terrorist ties. Further, the FBI’s ability to proactively penetrate and disrupt terrorist plans and groups prior to an attack would be impacted. High priority investigations would stall as workload is spread among a reduced workforce. Overseas operations would be substantially scaled back, including in-theater support in Afghanistan where U.S. military and coalition operations rely on FBI investigative and forensic programs.”

10. An Even More Porous Border
a. Border Patrol will face cuts, Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano wrote to the committee: “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would not be able to maintain current staffing levels of Border Patrol Agents and CBP Officers as mandated by Congress.”

11. Untended Nukes
a. Sequestration means less security at U.S. nuclear facilities, Energy Secretary Steven Chu wrote to the committee: “Our security posture at sites and facilities would be eroded due to project deferrals and workforce reassignments.” Chu further wrote: Sequestration would also “degrade the internal oversight function of DOE nuclear facilities and reduce the depth and frequency of audits and evaluations needed to ensure ongoing robust security operations.”

12. 1,200 Fewer OSHA Inspections, Potential for More Workplace Deaths
a. Secretary Solis wrote: “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will protect its highest priority activities but still roughly 1,200 fewer programmed inspections of the most dangerous workplaces will occur. This reduction could lead to an increase in worker fatalities and injuries. States, which enforce the law in over half of the states, will also have to furlough inspectors, and an even larger reduction in the number of inspections in State Plan States is expected.”

There are forty-five other adverse consequences discussed in Mr. Good’s article and it should be read by all who are interested in the harm this foolishness can inflict. Politicians who now advocate allowing sequestration to happen must answer the question – How does this approach make America a more unified, just, peaceful, secure, prosperous, and free nation? In truth, sequestration advances no Constitutional purpose and it retards almost all of them.

Regardless of the propaganda to the contrary federal, state, and local government spending is not done without thought and it is not done for no good purpose. The Republican mania for spending cuts arises from ideology, not evidence. Sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, defending the nation, facilitating travel, inspecting food and workplaces are not frivolous activities. Elected officials have a right to their considered opinions. They do not have a right, however, to sabotage the government of which they are a part. They do not have a right to a foolish rigidity that ignores facts and persists in factionalism. Members of Congress, regardless of party, are elected or appointed to exercise power responsibly for the good of the citizenry and the nation. Allowing sequestration to take effect is a dereliction of their duty and a betrayal of their solemn oath. It is time for We the People to call them to account.

The two charts from the Center for American Progress presented below depict what responsible choices would accomplish in two instances. Let us tell our members of Congress to make such choices. What are our priorities?

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Posted in: Larry Conley, Politics, USA

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  • Join the DCCC, Democratic Governors, and proud Democrats all across the country calling out Boehner and Cantor before the sequester deadline:

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