It is becoming clear that the highly touted and publicized “sequester” on spending imposed by the federal government is going to be a highly selective and arbitrary process, with working and poor people receiving most of the pain and suffering and pro-big business and military spending going unscathed.
After only one week of delays and inconvenience to air travelers caused by the forced unpaid furloughs of air traffic controllers, Congress intervened to allow the Federal Aviation Administration to restore normal service.
The FAA cuts were an early test of how the so-called sequester — which imposes across-the-board cuts to all federal spending — would work out in practice.
When Congress and the Barack Obama administration agreed on sequester cuts more than a year ago, the announced goal was to force a “grand budget deal,” since the sequester itself was such a blunt and ineffective way to reduce costs. The deal was likely to include unpopular cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
No deal was reached. Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, let the supposedly “unthinkable” cuts go through on Jan 1, 2013.
The cuts listed here are indeed disastrous for poor and working people:
• Loss of federal education funding affecting 1.2 million students and resulting in the possible layoff of 30,000 teachers and education staff, plus a $598 million cut in funding for special education programs.
• Elimination of 19 million meals for poor seniors who need them.
• Removal of between 600,000 and 775,000 low-income women and children from the Women Infant and Children food assistance program.
• Cuts in federal housing assistance that will deprive up to 125,000 families of aid.
• Unpaid furloughs of up to 15 days for meat and poultry inspectors at the Agriculture Department, resulting in $10 billion in production losses, not to mention lessened safety.
• The Head Start Program, which serves millions of poor preschool children, will be cut drastically. According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan: “The amount of money being cut from education programs and Head Start is the equivalent of about 40,000 teachers’ jobs.” (VOXXI.com, March 25)
• A 9.4 percent annual reduction in benefits for recipients of federally funded, long-term unemployment insurance. Because this cut is starting now, recipients will feel a 17 percent drop in benefits.
The list goes on and on. Moreover, the $87.6 billion in across-the-board cuts this year are supposed to continue until 2021, culminating in a grand total of $1.2 trillion, or until Obama and the Democrats agree to major cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
Setting a new baseline for spending
The cuts lay a new baseline of spending levels for workers and all the poor to force us to accept as “normal” the destruction of the concessions workers wrung from the bosses during the 1930s and the 1960s.
But not every program is actually going to be cut — at least not equally. As the recent example of the air controllers’ furloughs shows, programs that affect the constituencies of bourgeois politicians can be changed.
Already, the new budget presented by the Obama administration allows for “flexibility” in cuts to the Pentagon budget, along with cuts in Social Security, which are not yet included in the sequestration.
An egregious example is the new and improved Abrams tank, which the military says it doesn’t even need; the brass would rather spend money on drones and torture bases like Guantanamo. Lawmakers from both the Republicans and Democrats have devoted, over the past two years, nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money on this 70-ton behemoth.
Jim Jordan, a House of Representatives conservative leader from Ohio, who has pushed for deep reductions in federal spending, supported the sequester, which was supposed to include cuts from the Pentagon budget. But he and many others from both parties want the Abrams tank program to receive an addition $436 million.
Why? Because a General Dynamics factory in Jordan’s district manufactures the tank. Meanwhile, Head Start for millions of poor preschool children is being cut by $406 million.
All workers and poor people must fight to ensure that military spending and welfare for the rich are not paid for on their backs. Moreover, they should demand increases in programs that benefit the workers.