It's spring, and Congress is in the grip of righteous indignation over the IRS and the Benghazi attack. Once again we're watching a Washington morality play: Investigations have been called for; Republicans appear on morning talk shows with furrowed brows, their outrage writ large. What could be more important than spending countless hours voting for a do-over for the Affordable Care Act?
Meanwhile, as Congress engages in this familiar brand of kabuki theater, we are in the third month of sequestration and no dialogue between the executive branch and Congress is taking place. Hence the promised cuts, which were never meant to take place, are occurring (with the exception of the air traffic controllers, which Congress fixed posthaste).
Here's how sequestration is structured: $85 billion in cuts beginning year one (2013), and $110 billion every year thereafter until 2023, promoted under the fraudulent rationale proffered by the Republicans as "austerity" or "deficit reduction," with Greece as their frequently and decidedly disingenuous analogue. We are not Greece. Nor could we be. But then the cranky GOP knows that.
Sequestration, which began March 1 of this year, will begin to shred the nation's safety net affecting first our children, the elderly, and the infirm. As well, by year's end, some 750,000 jobs will be lost (layoffs and non-hires), affecting our anemic economic recovery.
Early childhood education (Head Start) will have some $406 million slashed from its budget. Many schools will be forced to truncate their school year. Some youngsters will be dropped from the rolls.
Medicare has been cut and cancer patients needing costly, lifesaving drugs are being turned away. Some clinics will drop a third of their patients for lack of funding.
In the aftermath of what has proven to be an intractable recession, when the number of homeless families has increased and 49 million Americans live in poverty, low-income housing vouchers will be reduced, meaning families in need will face a desperate uncertainty.
Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to needy seniors, will lose four million meals.
Our infrastructure — bridges, roads, water treatment plants, airports — will continue to crumble, and the millions that could be employed rebuilding America will remain unemployed or underemployed. Our air quality will deteriorate as the EPA is obstructed from enforcing its mandate while childhood asthma spikes. Public school budgets have been cut and cut again, roofs leak, textbooks are in short supply, teachers have been released nationwide, all in the face of the reprehensible fact that two out of five high school students will not graduate. If there ever existed an institution that can lift all boats and point the way for our children, it's public education, and we ignore and neglect and cripple it at our peril.
As well, sequestration cuts will impact public universities, community colleges, federal grants, HIV research, government laboratories, and renewable energy research and development. Our public parks will continue to deteriorate.
And there is the stunning reality that carbon in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million in May (350 was the red line), a fact that should be regarded as an issue of national security if not global security. This number has not been seen for at least 3 million years and portends a catastrophe on a scale that is clearly unfathomable.
And yet the sequestration continues. As do government distractions and specious debates, representing political malpractice on a grand scale.
Meanwhile the ship of state incrementally sinks under the weight of austerity and deficit reduction while Congress rearranges the deck chairs and evaluates the band's rendition of "Nearer My God to Thee."
Example: the House has voted to repeal Obamacare 37 times. One House member characterized the Affordable Care Act as a "malignant tumor that's metastasizing on America's liberty." Seriously?
And if there's a poster child for ignoring issues that beg for bold solutions, it's the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Rep. Darryl Issa, R-Calif. Regarding an ATF/Justice Department program called Fast and Furious, which targeted the straw man purchases of assault weapons (legal under current federal statutes) and then resold them to drug cartels in Mexico (2,000 per day), his intent was to prove malfeasance. Hearings were held. Outrage expressed. Attorney General Eric Holder held in contempt. And yet when the moment arrived in Congress to respond responsibly to the killings at Sandy Hook, these very same House members did nothing. Issa alleged on Fox News that Fast and Furious was part of a liberal conspiracy to restrict gun rights. "Very clearly, (the ATF) made a crisis and they are using this crisis to somehow take away or limit people's Second Amendment rights."
Regarding Issa's current committee investigations of the IRS and Benghazi: pure politics, faux furious, aimed at the White House and the 2014 elections.
And meanwhile, the sequestration continues.
Chris Honoré lives in Ashland.