Drowning in the Sequester’s Rising Waters

The sequester’s raging waters are rising.

In the weeks leading up to the sequester deadline, President Obama and others spoke ominously about the tragic effects the sequester – $85 billion worth of automatic cuts in federal government spending – would have. Eventually Obama toned down the rhetoric, realizing that the political gamesmanship was misleading.

No. The sequester hasn’t created instant devastation. It’s much worse than that.

Instead, the sequester has set in motion a cascading death-by-a-thousand-cuts waterfall that will wash through the economy for many years. And more and more Americans are beginning to feel its floodwaters rising around them.

Huffington Post writers were able to compile a list of a hundred painful sequestration stories in a matter of hours. And more stories of individuals and communities feeling the pain of the sequester are coming to light every day. Thousands of chemotherapy patients being turned away, left to die of cancer. Critical research programs being delayed or shelved. Parks and environmental programs being closed or cancelled.

The rising tide starts out slowly but is unforgiving.flood

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The worst part is that the sequester is hitting those most in need the hardest. Despite more than three years of tepid recovery, poverty in the U.S. continues to worsen. Tens of millions of Americans – many of them children – remain in the grips of economic desolation, unable to afford the bare necessities of life. Millions of workers still are unable to find jobs, or are left with no alternative but to work minimal hours at whatever menial jobs are available.

And just when these people most need help, at the very time they have no option but to turn to aid organizations for critical, life-sustaining services, those services are being eliminated.

And it’s not going to end there. Because of the way economies work, cuts in government spending have domino effects.

The wages that Hot Springs National Park employees would have received would have bought groceries at the Food City on Malvern Avenue. The money that would have gone to funding health care in Hampton Roads, Virginia, would have been spent at Jordan Fashions on King Street. The laid-off teachers in Sioux City, Iowa, would have spent most of their paychecks right there in Sioux City, maybe at the Southern Hills Mall.

The sequester washes all of that away. And the owners and employees of those less-frequented stores have less income and spend less. And they spend less. And they spend less. It goes on and on. Multiplied effects, coursing through every community, state, and region of the country. The river gathers force as more streams flow into it.

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More insidious are the long-term impacts of cutting critical programs such as Head Start, health care, and similar services for the neediest among us. The toddler in Cincinnati who would otherwise be in state-funded child care is left home while his multiple-job-working mother struggles to earn enough to feed him. Instead of learning and being cared for by professionals, he’s left without role models, supervision, or attention. Years later he joins a gang and embarks on a life of crime. At-risk babies don’t receive preventative health care when it would do the most good, and grow up to have costly, debilitating health conditions that prevent them from contributing positively to society. Meanwhile, the cost-effective treatment for those heath conditions that would have been developed never is, because funding for those research programs was eliminated.

The long-term water damage is even worse than the short-term.

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What needs to happen?

Extremist Republicans in Congress need to recognize the destructive effects of their absolute unwillingness to compromise. They need to stop catering to the demands of their ideology-obsessed billionaire keepers and compromise for the greater good. Democrats need to stand up for their values. Millions of Americans – the people who are being irreversibly harmed by the sequester – must scream loudly, rising up as a wave to beat against Republican obstructionism.

As the economy struggles to find its footing and produce a sustainable recovery, we can’t afford to yank critical support out from under society’s most vulnerable. The time to address deficits is when an economy is strong, not when it’s most fragile

No, the sequester hasn’t created an instant tsunami of devastation, and it’s not going to. But the longer we allow these cuts to remain in place, the more the rushing waters will eat away at our economy and erode our society.

It’s up to us to roll back the tide.

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