For months in Washington, the sequester has been looming, threatening to shut down the government with potentially devastating consequences. As of Friday night, disaster struck: the sequester kicked in, forcing federal agencies to make $85 billion in spending cuts by the end of the fiscal year (September 30). President Obama spent the weekend in and out of meetings with Senate Democrats and Republicans trying to negotiate a solution that would help save the jobs of millions of federal government employees.
The federal government employs approximately 2.8 million people who will be drastically affected by the pending budget cuts. Nearly all of these employees are at risk of being furloughed starting in April and continuing until the end of September. Despite popular belief to the contrary, these cuts will impact numerous departments across the federal government and millions of employees across the country. We will all eventually feel the effects: when the post office stops delivering mail on Saturdays, when construction stalls on highways and bridges across the country and when drastic cuts to the federal Department of Education lead students to have less access to scholarships and loans for college. When these cuts happen, there is no doubt in my mind that we will all feel the impact.
The furlough could be avoided, at least to the extent that it’s happening now, if only Republicans and Democrats could work together to find the best solution. Both sides have the same ultimate goal: no one wants employees to be furloughed or drastic cuts to be made to important federal programs like education or highway construction. However, there is only one way to avoid these drastic spending cuts: bipartisan compromise.
Compromise does not mean eliminating across-the-board cuts. The deficit, at this point, is so severe that it calls for radical spending reforms. Cuts are a part of the solution, but raising taxes to generate greater revenue is necessary as well. Democrats believe raising taxes is one of the ultimate solutions to the budget crisis; Republicans disagree and think that spending cuts from vital programs (like the Department of Education and Environmental Protection Agency) are the ultimate solution. The reality is that raising taxes combined with spending cuts could actually create meaningful, effective change. Equally important, especially in this age of relatively non-existent bipartisanship in government, a compromise on this issue could lead to a new age of bipartisanship in our country.
Let’s abandon the issue of bipartisanship for a moment and look at the immense benefits of compromise: specifically, raising taxes in conjunction with well-planned budget cuts. Taxes, as we all know, pay for the essential things that everyone needs and uses: police officers, firefighters, schools, roads and the list goes on and on. Paying taxes is part of living in a democracy and ensuring that everyone contributes their fair share to keep the country running smoothly.
In this fiscal crisis, support for our democracy is more important than ever before. Across-the-board cuts can be harmful to people with the fewest resources (look at the major cuts made to Head Start in 2011, directly harming the poorest children across the nation). Too often, extensive cuts to the federal budget are political rather than need or program-based, such as cutting programs that receive excess funding already.
That said, when faced with a deficit of hundreds of billions of dollars, careful spending cuts become necessary. These cuts must be made with caution, though, focusing more on programs that already have excess money (programs like the defense spending).
I recognize (though I do not empathize with) many Americans’ desires to maintain a vast military with endless supplies of weapons and planes as a security measure (for all those times that the U.S. is invaded), but is it really necessary for the United States to spend 41% of the world’s total defense spending? Definitely not. Cutting some of the defense budget is necessary in times of economic turmoil. In fact, cutting many federal programs is going to be necessary at this time, but I believe programs can be whittled back without being destroyed, and I believe this can be accomplished without harming our most vulnerable citizens in the process.
As Congress and the President attempt to maneuver these trying times, I urge them to remember that our nation was founded on principles of equality, that working together to achieve an end almost always results in the best solution for everyone, and that drastic budget cuts will affect all of us — maybe not today or tomorrow, but definitely in the coming months. Even more importantly, I urge them to think about the programs that make America the “land of the free” — welfare, education, social security — and make cuts with care, remaining steadfastly aware of the repercussions of cutting programs like these. Finally, I urge them to work together in the spirit of bipartisanship: to compromise for the sake of our nation.
Original Author: Jessica Pachak