News Column

Ready or Not, Here Come the Budget Cuts

February 26, 2013
economic downturn

The deep government spending cuts that are about to happen reveal a huge miscalculation by the White House.

In Kentucky, home of the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, residents woke up Monday to news like this: Widespread government spending cuts that begin on Friday will cost 21,484 jobs in the state. A construction project at Fort Knox will come to a halt. Three airports may endure partial shutdowns. Nearly $12 million in grants to public schools would be cut, putting at risk the jobs of 160 teachers and aides. More than 1,000 children would lose access to Head Start.

The White House released warnings for every state Sunday in the hope that voters would besiege Republican lawmakers like Mr. McConnell and the House speaker, John Boehner, to stop the $85 billion in cuts, known as a sequester. President Obama wants to replace the sequester with a mix of tax increases on the rich and less damaging spending reductions. Republicans say they won't consider any proposal that isn't all cuts, so the sequester is all but certain to begin this week.

The White House strategy on the sequester was built around a familiar miscalculation about Republicans. It assumed that they would be reasonable and negotiate a realistic alternative to indiscriminate cuts. Because the reductions hurt defense programs long held sacrosanct by Republicans, the White House thought it had leverage that would reduce the damage to the domestic programs favored by Democrats. It turns out, though, that the defense hawks in the party are outnumbered. More Republicans seem to care about reducing spending at all costs, and the prospect of damaging vital government programs does not seem to bother them. "Fiscal questions trump defense in a way they never would have after 9/11," Representative Tom Cole, a Republican of Oklahoma, told The New York Times. "But the war in Iraq is over. Troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and we want to secure the cuts."

Cuts this draconian have no place in a tottering economy. But, realistically, the only way to break this standoff is for the cuts to exact their toll on daily life, causing Republicans to face pressure from the public to negotiate an alternative plan with higher revenues in March as part of talks to finance the government for the final six months of the fiscal year.

The details the White House released over the weekend are eye- opening. In Ohio, Mr. Boehner's home state, the cuts could cost 30,000 jobs. An 8 percent cut in federal research grants "would probably bring us to our knees," said Dr. Thomas Boat, dean of the University of Cincinnati's College of Medicine, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.

New York would lose $42.7 million in education aid, according to the White House, putting at risk nearly 600 jobs for teachers and their aides. About 12,000 civilian defense workers would be furloughed, and there would be big cuts to grants for law enforcement, job training, child care, public health and environmental protection.

The White House should have released these kinds of details months ago. Instead, it failed to discuss the consequences, fearing political blame while predicting the Republicans would cave. The result of that miscalculation -- and of the Republican disdain for the health of the economy and those who depend on government services -- will become clearer in just a few days.



Source: (C) 2013 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved


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