Monday, February 18, 2013


“It’s going to happen,” said Congressman Jim Moran, a Democrat representing our district in Northern Virginia. Although he was at T.C. Williams High School (yes, “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington) to talk about student aid, the looming sequestration was felt even there.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama warned of “grave consequences” if the sequester happens. Unless Congress acts, a series of automatic cuts – the sequester totaling $1.2 trillion spread over a decade – will take effect on March 1, about two weeks away.

It will impose drastic cuts in defense and domestic programs. The White House said the cuts could eradicate thousands of jobs for teachers, federal law enforcers and prosecutors; raise the possibility of food-borne epidemics; dry up about $540 million in loan guarantees for small businesses; and throw about 100,000 previously homeless people, including veterans, back out in the streets, among others.

The Budget Control Act of 2011, which created the sequestration, immediately lopped off $400 billion from the Pentagon budget and set the stage for slashing another $600 billion.

So why should we be concerned? The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned last week that as many as 750,000 jobs could be lost this year.

Sequestration would have a major impact in the Metro DC region, as well as the rest of Virginia and Maryland with its army of defense contractors and military facilities.

Lockheed is based in Bethesda, Md.; Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics HQs are in Fairfax, Va.; and SAIC is in McLean, Va. Among the four of them, they lassoed nearly $100 billion in defense contracts in 2010.

Hundreds of Fil-Ams are employed by the federal government; thousands more work for companies or own enterprises that rely heavily on it, especially the military. The Philippine American Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC, for instance, has organized panel discussions on the impact to small businesses of Obama initiatives, including the upcoming implementation of “Obamacare” this year.

Still, Peter Singer of from the Brookings Institute, writing for Time, said the overall impact of the sequestration would not change the balance of power or America’s standing in the world. “The US is the only global superpower, with capabilities and responsibilities that dwarf any and every other state in the world,” he wrote.

GOP congressmen have signaled they would be ready to accept deep cuts in the defense budget if only to force Democrats to accept cuts on popular social programs as well.

The whole law was premised on shared pain, that slashing defense and domestic programs would be too painful for Republicans and Democrats alike that they would be forced to compromise. If the sequestration does push through, it will show pain is not as potent a stimulus as they thought it would be.

President Obama telegraphed his reluctance to touch entitlements, and appeared bent on pushing the GOP to accept more revenue-raising measures like plugging tax loopholes. Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, said after the President’s address that there’s now a greater chance the sequestration will happen.

There is simply no bipartisan solution out there.

Now federal agencies, including the Pentagon, are busy preparing for it. Managers all across the vast federal bureaucracy have been briefing employees about furloughs, contingency plans ready.

With Congress on vacation until next week, many believe there won’t be time to stop sequestration. If it’s inevitable, I guess it’s imperative for Congress to rationalize sequestration, to control the descent so it doesn’t crash the economy.

Sequestration, Stinger said, “would be a terribly stupid thing to do.”

“It not only wouldn’t solve the core problems driving the US debt,” he added, it would also cut the budget in an “un-strategic manner…cutting both the good and bad by the same portions with no planning.” 

But what’s more disconcerting is the realization this is just the first in a series of events – raising the debt ceiling and crafting the national budget have to be tackled in the next two months. It's going to be difficult and the circus just doesn’t seem to want to leave DC.

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