Barbara A. Mikulski, a U.S. senator from Maryland, is chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the longest-serving woman in Congress.
A s the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I am deeply concerned that the American people do not fully understand the long-term effects of cutting $984 billion in spending over 10 years through sequestration. I fear that we are getting so far in the weeds, with our focus on meat inspectors or air traffic controllers, that we are losing sight of the real issues. Here are a few questions about what the sequester will mean over the next decade.
●With tens of thousands of combat veterans home from Iraq and coming home from Afghanistan, is now the time to squeeze funding for the veterans’ health-care system?
●With the American Society of Civil Engineers grading U.S. infrastructure a D-plus, is now the time to cut tens of billions of dollars for rebuilding our roads, sewers, bridges, airports and power grids?
●Is now the time to cut funding for the National Weather Service, when accurate forecasts of severe weather save hundreds of lives every year — through early warnings, as we just saw in Oklahoma — and U.S. industry relies on reliable forecasting every day?
●With the risks to U.S. diplomatic personnel serving overseas, is now the time to cut funding for embassy security?
●Should we be reducing the ability of the FBI and our state and local first responders to react after a terrorist attack and rapidly arrest those responsible?
●If we know that patients with dementia will consume an ever-larger share of our health-care costs, is this the time to cut back on basic medical research?
●No one questions that our information economy demands an educated workforce to compete with China and Europe. So is now the time to cut billions from education and job training?
●With stronger protections along U.S. borders necessary for immigration reform, is now the time to cut funding for the agencies responsible for controlling our borders?
●With North Korea growing ever more pugnacious, Iran developing nuclear weapons, Syria unraveling and terrorists determined to strike within our borders, is now the time to undermine the readiness of our troops by cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. defense budget?
●With the economy still struggling, is this the time to cut spending that promotes growth in the short and long term?
I could go on. Sequestration affects every aspect of our nation’s future, from our ability to create good jobs and compete in the global economy to the quality of life of children, seniors and working families across the country. I believe that when confronted with the questions I pose, the majority of Americans would agree that the answer is no.
I will continue to seek out and eliminate wasteful spending by our agencies and departments. But no amount of waste, fraud and abuse in discretionary spending will compensate for the $984 billion looming in cuts if we do not cancel the sequester.
It is important to remember that sequestration does nothing to fix the problem it was created to address: the nation’s long-term fiscal deficit. That deficit exists because of a lack of revenue and the need to responsibly reform our mandatory spending programs. “Discretionary” spending has already been cut by $1.4 trillion, separate and apart from the sequester. The real-world impact is clear and unacceptable: We are sacrificing our current and future economic growth.
I understand that most Americans don’t have time to keep up with the budget battle in Washington. And figures in the billions and trillions hardly seem like real dollars. Perhaps that’s why it was so easy to focus on small issues such as the air traffic controllers — we all understand waiting in line and flight delays. But we “fixed” the Federal Aviation Administration problem for only five months, and we paid for it by cutting FAA programs designed to expand the capacity of U.S. airports and improve safety. The sequester law lasts 10 years and imposes far deeper cuts.
Many long-term consequences of spending cuts if Congress fails to repeal the sequester are less media-friendly than pictures of crowded airports — but that does not make them less important or less real. Families will be unable to obtain affordable housing, children will be denied places in a Head Start classroom, seniors will not be served by Meals on Wheels.
No amount of flexibility can “fix” the sequester. So we can continue down a path of unsustainable cuts to national defense and domestic investments necessary to our future, or we can come together, across party lines, to replace this failed policy with one that will fulfill its intended purpose: responsible, balanced deficit reduction.
The solution to the sequester is not rocket science. We need to come out from behind our talking points and negotiate in good faith. But first we need to stop focusing on the little things and look at the big picture. We can all recognize that the sequester should have no place in America’s future.
Read more from PostOpinions: