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Issue: "Maximum insecurity," Feb. 23, 2013

Corporate, nonprofit, and agency lobbyists are descending on Capitol Hill trying to protect their piece of the federal government pie. The Defense Department sent a letter to Congress warning that the cuts will force them to furlough 800,000 civilian employees. “We are on the brink of creating a hollow force,” the letter warned.

The Navy must find an additional $4 billion in reductions this year, increasing the likelihood of reduced patrols, scaled back deployments, and delayed ship repairs. The National Parks Conservation Association has a three-page fact sheet predicting that the sequester will “bring national parks back to the days when rangers became an endangered species.”

Every agency has issued similar dire forecasts. “There are not many people running around Washington wanting to cut spending,” Huelskamp said. “There will be a lot of crying in Washington, but at the end of the day agencies will still get done what needs to get done even if the cuts go through.”

Obama, who nearly ignored the economy during his inaugural address, continues to give lip service to what he calls a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction. But there wasn’t much balance between tax increases and spending cuts in the fiscal cliff deal, and the White House has insisted that any changes to the sequester must include replacing some of the cuts with more tax increases. Boehner says that’s a nonstarter for Republicans.

Huelskamp acknowledges that the sequester will cause some companies and their employees to suffer, including several community hospitals in his district. In meetings with his constituents he has argued that taking a small reduction now may save the country in the future. He said most groups are willing to make the sacrifice as long as other groups dependent on federal dollars share the sacrifice.

Even with the cuts, Washington will likely spend more this year compared to last year. The sequester only reduces the rate of growth. Worse, the sequester largely exempts two of the biggest drivers of the nation’s debt: Medicare and Social Security. “If we can’t do these small minimal cuts that we are now talking about, how are we going to take care of the rest of the $1.2 trillion (deficit)?” Huelskamp asks.

Fifty-two years ago, Eisenhower gave his final speech before leaving the White House. In it, he warned about the dangers of massive spending, the acquisition of unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex, and of a time when government contracts become a substitute for intellectual curiosity.

“We ... must avoid the impulse to live only for today,” he said in a speech that lawmakers debating the fate of the sequester should consider, “plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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