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Sequestration Q&A: US Rep. Raul Grijalva

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HispanicBusiness.com asked congressional leaders, governors and mayors to respond to several questions directly related to the Sequestration and Transparency Act of 2012. Because the mandated cuts will impact every state, county and locality across the country, HispanicBusiness.com's editorial team reached out to more than a dozen Republican and Democrat policymakers from states with significant numbers of Hispanic constituents including Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Utah. A few lawmakers and one administration official respectfully declined to respond to sequestration-related questions. Some responded immediately.

We anticipate more policymakers will participate in this important dialogue with HispanicBusiness.com readers, as the issue of mandatory budget cuts once again takes center stage and the presidential election approaches.

Q&A With U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva

U.S. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Committee on Natural Resources, and is first vice chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

HB: What effect do you think the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 will have on federal, state and local programs that currently support education, health care and assistance to individuals and families?

RG: The Budget Control Act will have serious impacts on health care, education and the nation's economic recovery. The recently released White House report mandated by the Sequestration Transparency Act highlighted certain serious problems, but did not capture the full impact sequestration could have on American families. To take just one example, tens of thousands of children from low-income families could be dropped from Head Start across the nation. The National Education Association has said the cuts would eliminate 80,000 of the 962,000 slots for children and more than 30,000 jobs for Head Start teachers, aides and administrators. This devastating scenario could be repeated in programs all over the country, hurting our ability to restore the country to fuller employment.

Last week the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which I co-chair, held a hearing on sequestration and tax policy issues. Chad Stone, the chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, testified that "in a weak economy, increases in government spending on goods and services and putting money in the hands of people who will spend it will increase demand for goods and services and increase output and employment. Cutting spending will have the opposite effect, slowing growth and job creation." Arbitrary cuts to needed programs are exactly the wrong approach.

To make matters worse, non-military social programs have already experienced deep cuts. As the recently released sequestration report states:

The number of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Customs and Border Patrol agents, correctional officers, and federal prosecutors would be slashed. The Federal Aviation Administration's ability to oversee and manage the Nation's airspace and air traffic control would be reduced. The Department of Agriculture's efforts to inspect food processing plants and prevent foodborne illnesses would be curtailed. The Environmental Protection Agency's ability to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe would be degraded. The National Institutes of Health would have to halt or curtail scientific research, including needed research into cancer and childhood diseases. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's ability to respond to incidents of terrorism and other catastrophic events would be undermined.

Preventing this outcome should not be a partisan issue.

HB: Is it feasible that a bipartisan agreement will be reached in time to avoid an economic crisis?

RG: I voted against the Budget Control Act because any budget law that fails to generate revenue and makes deep, arbitrary cuts without Congressional oversight is doomed to fail. The potential for a bipartisan fix is yet to be seen. Certain issues simply can't wait until the next session, such as fixing the Medicare doctor compensation rate. Others could be addressed retroactively, but only if conservatives are willing to negotiate.

HB: Is there a significant risk that the U.S. economy will slip into another recession if a budget agreement is not reached soon?

RG: Yes, although "soon" is a relative term. Additional cuts to social programs and large, unfocused cuts to defense programs could cause deep and lasting damage to our economy. Insisting on massive across-the-board cuts to make arbitrary numbers match up will do far more harm than good. Social program cuts will have the quickest and biggest impact -- the impact of military spending cuts will be on a somewhat longer, less steep curve.

HB: Are you willing to support a bipartisan compromise agreement that spares severe cuts to defense and other federally supported programs that traditionally help spur economic growth?

RG: My CPC colleagues and I have introduced a resolution that lays out four specific items we need to see in any program we'll support:

1. No cuts to Medicare, Social Security or Medicaid benefits. These cuts do nothing to help the economy, and they hurt those that need help the most.

2. Serious revenue generation. Revenues have been left out of the discussion for too long, and any serious conversation about deficit reduction needs to include them.

3. Defense spending needs to match today's threats, and the Pentagon should make more targeted choices.

4. Job-creating federal investments in key areas such as infrastructure and education need to be protected.

On this basis, I'm prepared to negotiate in good faith with anyone who wants to talk seriously about reducing our deficit. Demanding a cuts-only approach is unrealistic and will never have political support.

HB: Do you support defense cuts in direct proportion to reductions in domestic spending on U.S. social programs?

RG: We have already cut non-defense discretionary by $900 billion over 10 years in the first part of the Budget Control Act. We're asking middle class and low-income Americans to chip in more and more, whether they're servicemen, servicewomen or civilians.

HB: How will cuts affect employment?

RG: I think we would see major employment impacts from both defense and non-defense cuts. Massive, arbitrary cuts of any kind threaten to set back our economic recovery by years if not longer. We need to be more careful about how we make national economic policy.

HB: What impact will the mandatory cuts now set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2013, have on the residential and commercial real estate markets?

RG: The recently released sequestration report shows that many rural housing services would be jeopardized, including rental assistance programs, housing revitalization programs, and rural housing grants. While some income assistance programs are protected, the report shows that public housing programs -- including those for elderly and disabled Americans -- could be cut. All of these cuts will have near-certain negative ripple effects in other sectors of the economy.

Sequestration Q&A: Sen. Marco Rubio

Sequestration Q&A: US Rep. Linda Sanchez

Sequestration Q&A: US Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

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