EDITORIAL: Sequestration or Opportunity?
By the time you read this, the automatic spending cuts triggered by the now-infamous "sequester" will have begun and, while I'm no fortune teller, I'm pretty sure the Earth will not have stopped orbiting the sun and the electricity will still be on as you read this article over a pre-church doughnut and coffee.
Over the last few years, Washington has centered its major financial decisions around "crises" -- working up to the 59th minute of the 11th hour to hammer out a "deal." If you have been watching the news, you'll know the hype around Friday's sequestration deadline was no different -- except this time there was no "deal." The sequester is in full effect until Congress passes and the president signs a bill that says otherwise.
Amid all of the gnashing of teeth and projections of doom, I have some good news: the sequester is doing exactly what it was designed to do, which is to force Congress and the President to focus on out-of-control spending and implement a budget that will begin to balance America's checkbook. To be clear, I'm not a big fan of across-the-board cuts like the sequester. When I think of all the fat marbled throughout our federal budget, I certainly see areas of the budget particularly desirable to reduce. But that is the point: if the priorities of both sides of the political aisle in all branches of government are reduced, it provides an incentive to work together to seek alternatives -- alternatives that achieve better, smarter and longer-lasting deficit reduction for America.
The sequester isn't a crisis; it is an opportunity. I know better, smarter alternatives to the sequester exist because the House has passed two. Unfortunately, neither was taken up by the Senate nor has the Senate been able to pass an alternative of its own. But the heat is on for the House, Senate and president to do better.
The reductions from the sequester represent 2.4 percent of federal spending this year. Let's put this in family terms. The median American family earned $50,502 in 2012 according to the former U.S. Comptroller General. To look like the federal government, that family would have expenses of $73,417 and a credit card balance of $322,205. The sequester would ask this family with the $50,502 income to shrink its spending from $73,417 to $71,655. Yes, that reduction might be hard, but that reduction -- and more just like it -- is absolutely essential to getting this family back on track.
Even though 2.4 percent is only a small step toward more responsible budgeting, I'm not promising sequester will be easy. It certainly appears that the administration is trying its best to make certain it is unpleasant. The administration had a year to prepare but did nothing. It could have spread the reductions out over 12 months, but instead is packing them into the final six months. The Department of Homeland Security is choosing to release detainees to save money. Are detention facilities really the "fat" that the president finds in DHS? There is always a manufactured crisis to use as an excuse to wait; we must seize this opportunity to follow through on changes that are long overdue.
I spoke to a group of students at Peachtree Ridge High School last month and we were talking about America's budget challenges. We were talking about the federal debt that has been accumulated by today's generations spending money and asking tomorrow's generations to pay for it. A young woman asked, "If my parents and you know that it is wrong, why do you keep doing it?" That is clarity as only a high school student can deliver it.
Unquestionably, the debt that America has created will cause a crisis for our children and grandchildren. Our opportunity to prevent that crisis slips further away each day that we do nothing. The sequester isn't the crisis; the sequester is the opportunity. The crisis is the debt that led to the creation of the sequester. We know that passing our debts along to future generations is wrong; the only question is whether we have the courage to do something about it. Here, in our part of the world, I know that we do.