U.S. Just Days Away From Austerity On Autopilot

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By Michael Bowman

The United States is days away from automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts that would impact everything from national security to air traffic controllers to food inspection. Republicans and Democrats are criticizing the budget sequester, but they show no sign of forging a bipartisan deal to avert it.

Unless Congress acts, $85 billion will be trimmed from U.S. military and domestic spending this year, the first installment of $1.2 trillion of cuts over a 10-year period.

“I think it will kick in [take effect],” said Senator Claire McCaskill.

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill says her party is in agreement with President Barack Obama that a substitute for the sequester should be enacted, comprised of targeted spending cuts and revenue increases. Speaking on the Fox News Sunday television program, McCaskill said the Senate will take up the measure.

“We will vote on something this week, and it will be a balanced approach. It will do both spending cuts and it will close some [tax] loopholes,” she said.

Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, oppose any measure that increases tax revenue. Republican Senator Tom Coburn says the key to fixing America’s fiscal woes is to curb runaway federal spending.

“Look, the federal government is twice the size it was 11 years ago,” said Coburn. “Sequestration is a terrible way to cut spending. It will be somewhat painful. But not cutting spending is going to be disastrous for our country.”

While championing spending cuts in general, some Republicans are uncomfortable with the sequester’s impact on U.S. armed forces. The state of Virginia is home to significant military installations, and its Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, spoke on CBS’ Face the Nation program.

“You have to cut, because we are in bad [fiscal] shape, almost $17 trillion in debt now,” said McDonnell. “But do not put 50 percent of the cuts on defense, our men and women in uniform, while we are still fighting a war in Afghanistan. That is not the right way.”

Democrats counter that unless tax revenues increase, the only way to shield military spending while maintaining overall deficit reduction targets is to extract even greater cuts from domestic programs on which many Americans rely. An example of the impact of those cuts was provided by President Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, who also appeared on Face the Nation.

“The vast majority of federal [education] money goes to help vulnerable children,” said Duncan. “Whether it is children with special needs, poor children, it just means a lot more children will not get the kinds of services and opportunities they need. And as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs.”

In this latest round of fiscal brinksmanship, a stalemate has emerged. Republicans dislike the sequester, but see it as preferable to the revenue hikes proposed by Democrats. Democrats also dislike the sequester, but are even more opposed to Republican cuts-only formulations that would subject domestic programs to even greater spending reductions. Unless the stalemate is broken in the coming days, the sequester will go into effect beginning Friday.

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