President Obama made another appeal to the American people Tuesday with warnings about how federal budget cuts could hit home in order to put pressure on congressional Republicans to accept his plan to avoid the sequester due to kick in March. 1.
The sequester would slash $85 billion in federal spending by Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year, as part of an agreement reached almost a year and a half ago to raise the debt ceiling.
If implemented as now planned, it would cut defense spending by 13 percent and domestic programs by about 9 percent, but they would be only the first year in a 10-year deficit reduction plan to reduce spending by nearly $1 trillion.
In recent weeks, the administration has outlined some impacts the drastic reductions would have on defense and discretionary spending. Entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits and Medicaid are exempt from sequestration.
Defense officials have warned that the cuts would leave a hollowed out military with reductions in health care spending. Less training time for some Army units could result in longer deployments.
The cuts would result in hiring freezes, furloughs and lost jobs in the government and private sectors, creating concerns about the repercussions on the recovering economy.
President Obama and congressional Democrats have called for a combination of targeted rather than across-the-boards cuts along with more revenue.
A recent proposal would raise $55 billion by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporations with another $55 billion in cuts evenly divided between defense and agriculture subsidies. The cuts and new taxes would be spread out over 10 years, minimizing the economic impact this year.
Republicans, however, oppose any increases in tax rates as well as other plans to hike revenue; they say the nations deficit is a spending, not revenue, problem and fear that more revenue will mean only more spending.
House Speaker John Boehner has said that sequester will remain in effect until there are cuts and reforms leading to balanced budget in the next 10 years.
Besides, Republicans already agreed to increase taxes on families earnings more than $450,000 a year as part of a deal in January to avoid automatic, middle-class tax hikes. Dealing with sequestration was delayed until March 1 with talk of pushing it off to another day again.
However, it cannot be an either-or solution. Addressing the deficit will require a combination of cuts and revenue increases shared by all Americans. Of course, it wasnt supposed to reach this point.
The cuts were meant to be so onerous that they would motivate President Obama and Congress to find a way to avoid them, which ignored the political reality and the deep ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats over the size of government.
But Congress took the week off and will not return from recess until Monday, which leaves about four days to resolve the problem.
Rather than point the finger and play the blame game, Democrats and Republicans need to agree on a plan of deficit reduction without further delay.