What is a “sequester,” and what in the world does it mean to me? We’ve been hearing about the dreaded sequester deadline of March 1 from the news media and politicians for the past few weeks. Using political speech and rhetoric, they attempt to explain the process in order to suit their own purposes.
A sequester is basically a self-imposed deadline for a certain action that has consequences, if it is not met. For example, a friend of mine last Fall told me he was on a diet. In order to make sure he kept his diet, he and another friend bet each other that each would lose the weight they wanted to lose by a certain date. If not, the one who didn’t would have to pay the other $100. When I saw him that day, he was eating a salad, and had already lost some of the weight he wanted to lose. The potential loss of the money was the incentive for him to keep his diet.
After talking with him that day, I thought it would be a good time for me to watch what I was eating and take off ten pounds by the first of the year. Well, I lost a couple of pounds, and then the holidays came around. Okay, I’ll try again later, sometime. There was really no deadline for me and no consequences for failure for keeping the diet. And there was no weight loss.
The sequester you hear about in the media is a self-imposed deadline that Congress and the President has set for March 1. By that day, they are to agree on firm budget cuts in order to start bringing down our nation’s government deficit. If they don’t, there are real consequences. Chris Good, in a column for ABC News, does a good job of explaining the process, and how we got to where we are.
He writes, “The sequester is yet another deadline in a long line of fiscal-policy stalemates that have hounded the U.S. political system in the last two years. It is across-the-board budget cuts. On March 1, barring agreement on a broader deficit reduction package, many federal programs will see automatic spending reductions take effect over the next ten years. The ten year cuts will total $1.2 trillion, and they’ll apply equally to defense and non-defense spending.”
Good continues that the sequester came “from Washington’s ineptitude at decision-making. Budget sequestration was brought into existence as an enforcement mechanism to make Congress and the White House agree to a package that would reduced the deficit.” This was back during the August 2011 debt ceiling debate, and they still haven’t done it. They gave themselves a deadline of January 1 of this year, which was extended to March 1. Notice that Congress and the President conveniently waited until after the November election to deal with any real action on government spending.
If the sequester takes effect on March 1, there will be $85 billion in forced budget cuts between now and the end of September. That sounds like a lot, and it is. The cuts will affect many. But, in reality, the cuts are actually small, considering that the U.S. government will run another $1 trillion deficit this year, with the total national debt being over $17 trillion by the end of the year.
Okay, if sequestration happens, how will those forced budget cuts affect me? The truth is no one really knows. In the coming days you will hear from politicians and the media what “could” happen. I’ve already read, among other things, that all FBI employees could be furloughed for up to 14 days, our country’s defense will be in jeopardy, and that up to 70,000 kids could lose access to Head Start programs. That could possibly happen. Or, maybe the Federal government could be more efficient, cut waste, move the money around to where it is really needed and necessary, and start on the road to living within its means.
Or, Congress and the President can “kick the can down the road,” and once again delay any serious action on government spending. This is what will probably happen. After the forced budget cuts take place on March 1, the media and many in government will make sure to highlight the hardships that some will face. After a short time, public pressure will grow, and some makeshift temporary, much less painful budget agreement will be reached, with the promise of a “comprehensive long-term budget agreement” by a set date in the future. This time, they’re serious about it.
And China will continue buying up our government debt. News reports this past week state that the Chinese military has been hacking into our computer systems. I don’t understand why this is necessary, since it looks like they will eventually own them.