Ben Cardin: Quick action can fend off sequestration

February 27, 2013|By BEN CARDIN

On March 1, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts will begin to take effect, cutting $1.2 trillion from defense and non-defense programs over the next 10 years.  These automatic cuts are known as sequestration and they will have a devastating effect on millions of Americans.

If Congress fails to act to reduce our budget deficit by March 1, sequestration will result in a meat-ax approach to reducing our deficit. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, sequestration for FY2013 alone will require across-the-board cuts of approximately $42.7 billion in defense and another $42.7 billion in non-defense spending. Instead of sequestration, we need to develop a fair and comprehensive deficit reduction plan that is based on our nation’s needs.

Sequestration is not just about numbers. If it occurs, it will take a terrible toll on millions of Americans. Sequestration will force indiscriminate cuts in defense, education, food safety, medical research, law enforcement, job training and agricultural programs, among many others. 

Today, Maryland has 60 non-military federal facilities and 17 military facilities, and more than 300,000 Marylanders work for the federal government in both civilian and military jobs. Our state is particularly vulnerable to sequestration. In fact, the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates projects that sequestration could mean a loss of 12,600 jobs resulting in a reduction of Maryland’s wage and salary base by $2.5 billion

Few people realize how much states and local governments depend on federal funding for education. The Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates projects that our state could lose $55 million in education funding in the next year. Such severe cuts could mean as many as 900 children would be unable to enroll in Head Start and we could lose 500 teachers, along with many other serious cuts to educational programs.

I have met with federal employees from across the state and there is great alarm at the thought of sequestration — not just because of a loss of wages, but because Americans depend on what our federal workers do. From issuing Social Security checks to overseeing our National Park system to processing passports to conducting medical research and to ensuring our food and drugs are safe, federal workers are dedicated to our nation.

We can avoid sequestration, but we must act now. In 2011, we took significant steps to cut spending when we passed the Budget Control Act, reducing spending by $1.5 trillion. In January, we achieved approximately $600 billion in additional revenue when we passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA). We are two-thirds of the way there.

But, we still need approximately $1.4 trillion in deficit reduction, which I believe is achievable. Instead of sequestration, we need a balanced approach that includes both increased revenues and decreased spending.

On the revenue side, let’s end tax preferences for the oil and gas industries, limit itemized deductions for wealthier families and close tax loopholes that allow some to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. On the spending side, we need to bring down health care costs, which will create significant savings. We also should count significant reductions in spending as we withdraw our troops from Afghanistan and reorganize our military to better face the threat of terrorism.

The American people are tired of these budget showdowns and stopgap measures.  We need to develop comprehensive and fair solutions that will solve our long-term deficit problems, but we can only accomplish that if we work together in the spirit of mutual respect and compromise.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, has served in the U.S. Senate since 2006.

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