The budget clock is ticking and both sides appear to be content to let it run out.
(It’s times like these I think politicians love drama more than my two-year-old.)
The deadline for the sequester budget cuts is just days away, although most of them will be phased in slowly with most Americans months away from feeling any pain.
But why do we care? (A question I get asked a lot considering our political coverage.) Let’s put aside the general argument that whether you like it or not, what the Beltway suits do affects all of us and look at the specific numbers, taken from various sources.
The sequester ax will fall on $85 billion in federal spending this year alone—and, I’m sorry, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Medicare takes a 2 percent hit—to the tune of about $11 billion. And the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will suffer a pair of cuts: $66 million will fall from the exchange grant program while the public health trust fund will lose $76 million.
The National Institutes of Health also has cuts coming, totaling around $2.5 billion.
Naturally, the American Medical and American Hospital Associations have lobbied hard against these cuts. And while there’s probably more than a little hyperbolic posturing involved, there’s little doubt these cuts will cool off a sector that’s weathered the economy—and the requisite job losses—better than most. Their estimates put potential job losses at more than 200,000 this year alone if the sequester cuts are allowed to fall.
While 2 percent doesn’t like much when it comes to Medicare—especially when you’re talking about an agency that loses billions each year in fraud alone—the doctors’ groups are quick to point out that while Medicare payments have remained flat over the last decade, provider costs are up 20 percent. And you thought your pay raises have been bad.
I sympathize with the doctors but, let’s face it, we all essentially took a pay cut in January with the expiration of the payroll tax holiday. Is is too much to ask the feds to do the same?
And, finally, there’s the matter of the sequester itself. Debate lingers over who first put it on the table (not that it really matters now). But both parties approved it back in 2011, and the president signed off on it. They broke it, they bought it.
The sequester, however it was conceived, was inserted punitively. If Washington couldn’t reach a budget deal on their own, this automatic budget cut would be their punishment, so to speak. If my kids don’t get good grades, they get grounded. It has to serve as both deterrent and a punishment. And as you parents know, if you don’t follow up on that threat, they’ll walk over you. Well, these stiffs are about to walk all over all of us.
(I know, I often compare politicians to children, but dammit, if they’re going to act that way, what do they expect?)
Personally, I don’t care how we got here. We’re here now. And Congress—with the president—have to reach a deal or let the cuts happen. We don’t need another halfway bargain, or worse, another postponement. We’ve had enough paralyzing uncertainty over the last four years, and I think the country’s over it. Let the cuts come. Or not. Then we can all move on.