Nation on vacation
Breaking down the drama of the upcoming spending cuts
Published: Sunday, February 17, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2013 20:02
So … remember the fiscal cliff?
At the end of 2012, Congress faced a serious dilemma: compromise on a new deal to address a $1 trillion budget gap by the beginning of the new year or risk sending the economy into another recession. Its grand compromise was to patch up a few things here and there and then postpone the rest for two months. Problem (temporarily) solved.
Could our government possibly be more incompetent? Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way. The two months end on March 1, and Congress just took a 10-day vacation.
Lawmakers are off until Feb. 25 for their Presidents’ Day recess, leaving them only four days to seal the deal when they reconvene. Prior to the break, Democrats offered their plan to address sequestration – automatic cuts in spending – with tax increases and more graduate spending cuts. Republicans, however, want to replace it only with other spending. President Obama has made it clear on multiple occasions he doesn’t want to see the automatic cuts go into place.
Let’s be honest: nobody does. But it’s hard to believe Congress is taking any of this seriously if its members are currently off lounging in Boca Raton. We are constantly battling economic crisis, and we’ve elected and employed the most inept Congress in our nation’s history. Last year, the 112th Congress’ average approval rating was 15 percent, the lowest ever in Gallup’s history. Currently, the month-old 113th Congress’ rating is at 14 percent.
Yet, these are the people we have elected to run our country. Every four years, we put all our time and energy into a big, flashy presidential election so we can pick our new scapegoat, but when it’s all said and done, it’s our comrades in the Capitol who do all the bidding.
So now – thanks to their utter inability to compromise or work efficiently – they have a lot to bid on when they return all refreshed and tan, starting with the spending cuts. Jan. 1’s American Taxpayer Relief Act postponed any sequestration movement until March, leaving the impending $1.2 trillion worth of cuts over the next 10 years in the shadows. Some of the cuts that could occur would affect defense and non-defense accounts, such as education, the IRS, border patrols, homeland security as whole, Medicare, health and safety inspections, loan guarantee reductions and cuts to health care-related jobs.
Those cuts could cause massive complications to students in higher education programs. Sequestration included a reduction of 8.2 percent in federal financial aid, totaling approximately $350 million (for reference: in 2011-12, the total federal aid for undergraduate students was about $135.9 billion). In turn, scholarship programs, work study and research grants would be affected by the automatic cuts.
On top of that, Congress still needs to figure out a budget. The fiscal year began at the beginning of October. That’s right – it’s been over four months since the beginning of the current fiscal year, and there is still no budget set in stone. This means funding for all federal agencies will expire in two weeks without it. And because of the newest saga in the ongoing series of debt ceiling crises, the government is expected to default on existing loans without a new increase after the country hits its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit at the end of December.
Congress either has to let in and compromise or let the cuts happen, and at this point, it just seems like it’s playing the world’s longest game of chicken. How long can each party and each house last? How long can we, the people, last?