The size of the automatic cuts this fiscal year, $85 billion, looks trivial compared with our $3.7 trillion federal budget. As Post columnist George F. Will has written: “Head for the storm cellar — spending will be cut 2.3 percent! Or: Washington chain-saw massacre — we must scrape by on 97.7 percent of current spending!”
It seems like 2.3 percent of savings can be found without inflicting harm. But that 2.3 percent is applied to only a small part of the budget. And seven months, not 12, remain in this fiscal year to make the cuts. With little discretion about trimming areas such as aviation and food safety, layoffs and furloughs will interrupt services vital to the economy and public health. As disruptive as the first year of the sequester would be, imagine what a decade of automatic cuts would produce.
4. The cuts are so large, they will be catastrophic.
The administration has released state-by-state estimates of the sequester and highlighted the cutbacks most likely to harm or inconvenience the public. The reality is not so immediate or dramatic. The damage will accumulate in less visible ways, as irrational reductions in public spending impede economic growth and job creation; reduce investments in education, infrastructure and scientific research; and further disrupt the routine of a modern democracy. The longer the sequester remains in place, the more harm is inflicted.
5. This fight is all about money.
Those who relish using a sequester — some House Republicans, along with a gaggle of radio talk-show hosts, editorial writers and cable television commentators — say this is one small step toward reducing U.S. deficits and debt. But if the goal were really debt reduction, it would be easy to get a bipartisan deal that would lower the debt enough to meet the original target set by the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, with roughly a third coming from revenue. The insistence on deep discretionary-spending reductions while calling for even deeper tax cuts shows that the sequester is not about money but about taking a meat ax to government as we know it.