The Real Impact of the Sequester

(PAI) If you walk into the grocery store next month, and there’s no chicken in the freezer, blame Congress.

If you get to the airport for the flight to see your mother and your plane is delayed – or cancelled – blame Congress.

If you’re driving a wounded warrior to the local VA hospital for rehab, and you get there and the rehabilitation specialist isn’t there that day, blame Congress.

And if you’re job hunting and visit the Labor Department’s “one-stop shopping” jobs center in your local mall to use its computer to fill out resumes or check the job board and the center is closed, blame Congress.

Welcome to the real world of that odd Washington word, the “sequester.”  That’s a fancy term for the budget slashes Congress foisted upon us – courtesy its radical Tea Party Republicans – in the name of cutting federal spending.

Democrats, including President Obama, don’t get away stock-free on this mess.  After all, they agreed to the sequester scheme, even if they were under a “budget gun” last year to do so – or else.

The sequester is one of those Washington words that causes constituents’, workers’ and taxpayers’ eyes to glaze over.  “What the hell are they talking about?  What do all these big numbers mean?” you mumble.  “How does it affect me?”

Well, you’re about to find out.  Because unless Congress replaces the sequester’s $85 billion in budget cuts, they kick in starting March 1. Here are just a few of the real-world impacts, courtesy of the American Federation of Government Employees, the workers who bring you a vast array of federal services:

•  Less meat and chicken in supermarkets.  The 6,500 meat and poultry inspectors, like other federal workers, will be furloughed – laid off – to save money.

No inspections means the meat and poultry processing plants the inspectors visit must shut down until they get there.

Result: Less meat and chicken on the store shelves, prices go up.

Oh, by the way, on the days the plants shut down, the plant workers get sent home.  They don’t get paid, either.   That’s hundreds of thousands of workers losing $400 million in pay, AFGE food safety inspectors point out.

• Flight delays and cancellations.  And you’d better add longer lines to screen the passengers, too.  The furloughs could idle up to 4,000 workers at the Federal Aviation Administration.  Fewer workers means fewer inspections means fewer planes in the air.

And AFGE represents the airport Transportation Security Officers – the screeners — too.  If you think those lines are long now, wait’ll you see what happens when thousands of the TSOs are furloughed.

• No rehab for wounded warriors.  Medical care and VA hospitals themselves are exempt from the sequester, the law enacting it says.  But VA workers in other fields, like rehab, are another story.  Which is why there may be no rehab for the veterans.

• You can’t take your toddler to child care.  Federal child care center funds are reduced.  AFGE says 30,000 kids will get dropped.  Ditto for 70,000 kids in Head Start.

Even if your child is at a center or Head Start classroom, there might not be any milk and cookie snacks: The sequester includes a $353 million cut in supplemental nutrition assistance for poor kids.

“This across-the-board cut will slow economic growth and job creation while cutting services and investments critical to people,” says Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, which helps disburse federal funds.

What were we saying about the DOL’s job centers?  They face a cut, too.

But in approving the sequester, the GOP majority rode roughshod over Lowey,  other Democrats and the impact on you and me.  Obama and many other Democrats went along with the sequester, protesting they never expected its budget cuts to kick in.

Well, starting March 1, they will.

There is a way to stop this chaos, AFGE suggests: Stop the sequester.  Then go through the budget, item by item, seeking legitimate savings.  Reduce the $300 billion the government spends on contractors, their employees’ and execs’ high pay and perks.

Oh, and mix all this with regular tax rates – not reduced rates – on capital gains and a tiny trading tax, which would raise $350 billion, on financial transactions.

What was that smaller sum you were talking about from the sequester?  $85 billion, wasn’t it?  The tax on financiers’ finagling would raise four times as much, all by itself, as the sequester saves.  And it would punish the people who produced the Great Recession, while damping their speculative fervor that could lead to another crash.

Sounds like a good mix of ideas to us.  Call your lawmakers and say: “Stop the sequester, before you hurt me.  And I’m your constituent. Remember that.”