Steny Hoyer: Forced budget cuts take effect Friday unless Congress acts quickly
He says Democrats have sought compromise, GOP bent on letting cuts happen
He says cuts will have painful effect on jobs and programs from Head Start to defense
Hoyer: GOP should compromise, share credit for averting cuts, or they will bear the blame
Editor’s Note: Steny Hoyer is the House minority whip. He has represented Maryland’s 5th Congressional District since 1981.
An arbitrary and irrational series of automatic budget cuts, also known as sequestration, are set to take effect Friday unless Congress acts immediately. While House and Senate Democrats have proposed serious alternatives to the cuts that employ a balanced approach, many Republicans continue to push the severe spending-cuts-only formula as the only viable solution to our deficit problem.
Since the start of the 113th Congress, House Republicans have failed to bring a single bill to the floor that would prevent the cuts. Indeed, they supported forced budget cuts all along. They introduced the approach as part of their Cut, Cap, and Balance bill in July 2011, which passed the House with 229 Republican votes, before being tabled in the Senate. Now, as the clock ticks down to the forced cuts’ implementation, some Republicans are cheering for it to happen; House Republicans seem eager to reject compromise and risk our fragile economic recovery rather than work with Democrats to avert this impending crisis of their own making.
One of them, Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, called the forced cuts “a home run” that Americans would not only accept but approve of. And Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on February 12: “It’s pretty clear to me that the sequester is going to go into effect. Read my lips: I’m not interested in an eleventh-hour negotiation.”
These sentiments come in spite of the many warnings from the president, leading economists, top military brass, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and even fellow Republicans such as Sen. John McCain and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the devastating cuts promise to deal a sharp blow to our economy and national security.
Every day that passes without an agreement on a balanced plan brings greater uncertainty for businesses and markets, and deeper anxiety for middle-class families. The assertion that these cuts will not do real harm is simply wrong. Sequestration will mean hundreds of thousands of civilian defense personnel could be furloughed and tens of thousands of jobs lost as a result of canceled or reduced contracts.
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Thousands of children could be dropped from Head Start, long wait times added to job training and placement services, and rental assistance pared back or eliminated for thousands of low-income families. Law enforcement and emergency first responders could see personnel cuts and the loss of important federal funding that helps keep our communities safe.
The American people understand that compromise is needed to prevent the cuts. According to a recent Bloomberg poll, almost three in five Americans believe that the budget deficit should be curbed through a combination of spending reductions and revenues, as the White House has proposed, rather than an exclusive focus on severe cuts, as Republicans demand.
The American people are right and the arithmetic is clear: You cannot achieve the amount of deficit reduction needed with spending cuts alone. Additional revenues have to be part of the equation. That’s why the forced spending cuts are not a viable path forward. If we identify smart spending cuts and needed revenues, we can reduce the deficit responsibly and have room to invest in a strong economic recovery so that businesses can grow and create jobs, and our manufacturing sector can continue to expand.
Democrats in the House and Senate have proposed alternative cuts that are smarter, close tax loopholes and ask that the wealthiest Americans pay at least the same tax rates as those in the middle class. I am a co-sponsor of the House bill because I believe we must get serious about our deficits and debt – but we have to do so in a responsible way that will not harm our economy or national security.
We have less than 24 hours to avert this manufactured economic crisis. Republicans’ intransigence is nothing new, but to use this strategy when the stakes are so high for so many Americans is irresponsible. Either House Republicans can choose compromise with Democrats, or they can continue standing in the way of moving our economy and our country forward. They can either share credit with Democrats for averting this crisis or fully own the consequences of the dangerous policy they will have imposed.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steny Hoyer.