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TheRootDC
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Posted at 02:12 PM ET, 03/06/2013

Is the sequester a question of race or politics? Or both?

Reynolds is an ordained minister, a columnist for TheRootDC and the author of six books, including “Out of Hell & Living Well: Healing From the Inside Out.” She is a former editor and columnist for USA Today

There is an old adage that when America gets a cold, poor people (and now the middle class) get pneumonia.

   Even before sequestration actually hits home, there are lots of people
US President Barack Obama responds to a question from the news media during a press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 01 March 2013. President Obama responded to questions in the White House breifing room after a meeting with congressional leaders on the sequester. EPA/SHAWN THEW (SHAWN THEW - EPA)
shivering. Indeed, the fear factor of the cuts is already sinking in. The bad news of furlough has already arrived at Beverly Johnson’s job in The District.  She works for a federal agency and her boss shared with the staff Friday that workers could expect to be furloughed at least 50 hours in the next six months and maybe more if the furloughs are extended.

That’s $1,000 from Johnson’s paycheck after taxes.  That’s peanuts when you size up automatic cuts this year of $85 billion; inconsequential in a $3.7 trillion budget.  But for Johnson, the $1,000 is about survival. She is a cancer patient with costly co-pays and medications. “If the sequestration continues, I will have to decide which pills to halve or do without.” When she factors in rent, gas, food and parking fees, she says. “I do not know how I am going to survive. I also worry that I will lose my job. That would be devastating.”

“I just wonder do the power-brokers see me and people like me.  I am a taxpaying worker, struggling, hardly making it, yet we who have so little are required to sacrifice so much more,” she asked. “I am an African-American. Is this about race or is this another power struggle that the vulnerable are being dragged into?” 

  Johnson raises good questions. Are these axe wheeling politicians who are driving this sequestration or purposeful legislators trying to tame the deficit? Is this a power trip, a blame game, a numbers charade? And what’s the racial impact? Are African American’s like her more vulnerable?

The answer? When you talk to congressional leaders, civil rights activists and others whose constituents are communities of color, it is all the nasty political scenarios above and much more.

Not a game, but a gamble with people’s lives concludes Rep. Marcia Fudge chair of the Congressional Black Caucus whose district includes Cleveland. “The education of thousands of students in communities across the country is at risk. Teachers, firefighters, police officers and people who run certain Medicare and Social Security programs are at risk.”

Not about deficit-cutting, but the “consequences of a right- wing takeover of the government,” says District Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. “The president has introduced balanced plans to cut the deficit which would not require hurting the most vulnerable, such as our children and the elderly. But those proposals rolled off of the backs of the GOP. Economists have warned that when you are coming out of a recession if you do not do things in a balanced way you go back into a recession.”

About 69.000 District residents like Johnson work for the federal workforce, much of which are facing furloughs. Norton, whose constituents are largely people of color, stressed that you can’t furlough workers without gravely hurting the nation’s security, transportation and public health. “We became big in IT (information technology) because of the link to the federal government, the contractors moved here and the economy prospered. The engine of the economy is the federal government.”

Not about fixing the economy, but a determined move to punish the president and undo his progressive agenda. That’s how Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau chief of the NAACP sees sequestration.

“We had stopped the GOP from denying health care to 48 million people, 34 percent were African Americans, the president signed a bill that helped reduce the interest rate of federally-sponsored student loans, more job training programs were opened, for the first time the nation has an agency whose sole mandate is to protect consumers. But with such drastic budget cuts it will be difficult to maintain the new direction which is in the best interest of the American people and that is part of the strategy of the opposition to undo the election gains.”

Regardless of the motivation behind the sequestration, when one sector gets sick, sooner or later everybody suffers. Brian Smedley, vice president of the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies and director of its Health Policy Institute, makes the case.

Smedley pointed out sequestration would result in 900,000 fewer patients served by community health centers and fewer HIV tests. “The cuts in HIV testing will hinder treatment of those with the disease and will also factor into those who without knowing it could spread it to others.”

Rep. Donna Edwards, whose district covers most of Prince George’s County, believes that when their constituents start feeling the pain, the GOP legislators will start singing a different tune.

Still when the best that can be offered is a choice between a cold and pneumonia, the system and the motives behind them are sickening prescriptions.

Reynolds is an ordained minister, a columnist for TheRootDC and the author of six books, including “Out of Hell & Living Well: Healing From the Inside Out.” She is a former editor and columnist for USA Today.

By  |  02:12 PM ET, 03/06/2013

 
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