Looming fiscal cliff still with us after the presidential election

The so-called fiscal cliff of sequestration, which threatens to take a gouge of nearly half a billion dollars out of the U.S. defense budget over the next 10 years, is as much of a threat as ever, but you'd never know it with so much media attention riveted on the presidential election.

It seems strange that this fiscal cliff has not been more of an issue in the campaign. This is a ticking time bomb, initiated by a Congress that's much more concerned with partisan political trivia than with the faltering U.S. economy, because this legislative device threatens hundreds of thousands of American jobs, as well as U.S. military preparedness.

Sequestration threatens to lop off $1.2 trillion from about 1,200 federal programs over the next decade. Moreover, sequestration threatens to make cuts in indiscriminate ways that will cause maximum damage.

Sequestration was set up by Congress to trigger automatic cuts in federal spending in January 2013 if lawmakers don't agree on controlled spending drawdowns. This proposed remedy is so severe that it reminds me of the Vietnam War when soldiers said they had to destroy villages in order to save them.

It was absurd then, and the sequestration approach is absurd now. It's a given that indiscriminate and abrupt cuts in federal spending will cause hundreds of thousands of Americans to lose their jobs. Consider the long-term ramifications. Imagine the private businesses that provide goods and services to the people who could be out of a job before the end of this calendar year. What happens when those laid-off people cut their household budgets just to survive? How many businesses would be forced to close as a result of big reductions in disposable income?

Those in the House and Senate should have thought of this, but they didn't; sequestration was never supposed to happen. Instead, it was to be an "incentive" for members of Congress to work together to head off this disaster.

To date, no deal has been hammered out. When and if sequestration hits, the pain and suffering of thousands of Americans will make us forget quickly about the trivial campaign issues dominating media attention-things like contraception, Big Bird, binders of women, and glass ceilings.

One might think that Congress and the president might have acted with some urgency as the sequestration deadline creeps closer, but instead the issue simply has become politicized.

If the law were to be followed, thousands of U.S. defense industry employees would receive layoff notices the Friday before the presidential election. Yet, while the law says defense contractors must notify employees at least 60 days before layoffs take effect, it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

In response to pressure from the Obama Administration, Lockheed Martin, the nation's largest defense contractor, in early October backed down from announced plans to issue layoff warnings to employees just before the November election.

The Obama administration, company leaders said, gave them assurances that the president won't immediately kill any major defense contracts when automatic spending cuts go into effect in January.

While this may be of some immediate comfort, it solves nothing, and won't keep those workers employed when sequestration hits.

In short, we face a mess that won't go away by ignoring it. Willful denial for too long is what got into this in the first place.

Here's hoping that Congress will do something-anything-to stop sequestration during a lame-duck session. If they don't, then whoever is sworn in as president in January will face a monumental catastrophe.


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February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2
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