With less than a month left before the November 23 deadline, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the Supercommittee, is struggling to find consensus on more than $1 trillion in spending cuts.
As mandated by last Augusts’ Budget Control Act, if the 12-person Supercommitee fails to arrive at a plan to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, drastic across-the-board cuts automatically go into effect.
These cuts, called sequestration, would impact every federal agency and reach virtually every government program. Defense spending, which is central to Northern Virginia’s economy, would see a ten percent cut, while nondefense spending, which has already been massively cut, would be lowered further by roughly 8 percent beginning in fiscal year 2013.
While these figures may not initially seem shocking, a closer look at their impact demonstrates the need for the Supercommittee to arrive at an agreement. A ten percent cut to defense spending would harm base operations, weapons maintenance, readiness training, and recruiting. This could mean reduction in the ability to effectively operate our military academies, acquire and maintain needed levels of military weapons and equipment, and delay or halt needed improvements to our military bases.
Further, sequestration could result in a nearly 25 percent cut in Border Patrol agents that guard the U.S. borders to the North and Southwest. The Justice Department would eliminate roughly 10 percent of its total personnel charged with protecting the law, including 3,700 FBI, DEA, ATF agents and U.S. Marshals, along with 975 Justice Department attorneys.
A roughly eight percent cut to the Food and Drug Administration would reduce funding $200 million below 2011 levels, lowering the number of people who inspect our food. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would have $440 million less to prevent and detect outbreaks of infectious diseases like flu, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. And nearly $200 million would be taken from efforts to repair or improve facilities that clean our drinking water.
But it is not just the health and safety of our nation that could be harmed by sequestration. Across-the-board spending cuts would hold back future generations. Head Start, widely agreed as a successful program to ensuring success of children would enroll as many as 100,000 fewer children nationwide. The WIC program would be forced to drop about eleven percent, or a million, participants.
The above examples demonstrate how detrimental sequestration would be to the health, safety, and future success of our nation. The Supercommittee can avoid sequestration, but cuts alone will not address balance the budget. Government spending currently equals roughly 25 percent of GDP, while revenues being collected are at an historically low 15 percent of GDP. Clearly, more revenues are needed to plug this unsustainable gap.
As the clock runs down, all eyes in Congress and across the country are on the Supercommittee to see if they can indeed, produce.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.