Impacts within the U.S. of the looming sequestration

The potential impacts within the U.S. of the looming sequestration are breathtaking, even putting politics aside for a moment - a big aside since one could make a case that our current predicament has come about because of the "politics of non-compromise" and "kicking the can down the road."

If the sequester goes into effect and if it is not lifted by a better compromise within a month or two thereafter, some rather devastating consequences could occur. These consequences will be not only for domestic programs, which must absorb about 50 percent of the $85 billion of mandatory cuts, but also for U.S. national security.

Domestically, many critical social programs such as Head Start and benefits for the long-term unemployed will be affected. Among many other cut backs, there is expected to be, for example, reductions in the number of available air traffic controllers. We could expect, therefore, reductions in social services, air transportation delays, and a broad array of economic and infrastructure impacts.

Sequester will require the Department of Defense (DOD) to find about $46 billion in cuts. The Secretary of Defense has already warned DOD's civilian employees that they may be "furloughed" without pay for 20 percent of their time. These are people, mostly outside of Washington, DC, who maintain our ships, repair our aircraft, help train our troops, etc. If the sequestration goes into effect, it might, among other impacts, slow training and the procurement of weapons, and make some things such as the unit cost of certain items more expensive. This may not happen right away, but take no solace that it might be months before the full impact is felt. Apart from grave personal family impacts, the economic ripple consequences of a 20 percent reduction in monies to the 800,000 DOD civilian employees (not to mention cut-back impacts on the 775,000 defense contractors) would be quite significant.

Some believe that such projected impacts are being exaggerated. If the across the board sequester goes into effect on domestic programs it will negatively affect many people including children and their education - i.e., it will affect our nation's future.

General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress that mandatory cuts applied to U.S. military operations will reduce our national security. Obviously, we will continue to fund the war in Afghanistan and other mission critical efforts. Military personnel per se would not be cut beyond current plans. However, cuts may affect the training of units for other possible conflicts. Over time, our preparation for the future of our Army, Air Force, and Navy to be ready to fight other conflicts as they may arise could be significantly affected. In today's world, this should worry everyone whatever your political persuasion.

Now for the politics: the obstinacy of the Congressional Republicans in not negotiating with the President is the major hold up notwithstanding claims to the contrary. Those of us who hoped to see a new era of thoughtful cooperation directed towards what is best for the country after the recent presidential election are disappointed.

It should be everyone's hope that a deal that includes both revenues and expenditures can be made as soon as possible - for the good of the country. None of this argues against seeking substantial spending reductions, greater efficiencies, and selectively cutting certain programs, whether military or domestic, that are not delivering necessary, useful, effective, or high priority results. This emphasizes the need for selectivity not across the board cuts. In fact, Pentagon leadership acknowledges that there is plenty of waste to cut - but sequestration is an inefficient and dangerous way to do it.

Richard Scribner is a resident of Manchester.


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