Sequestration is the new Band-Aid

Sequestration is the new Band-Aid

July 23rd, 2013 in Opinion Times

Sequestration - the acting out of congressional impotence - is really just beginning to be felt by the public.

The across-the-board cuts to most federal programs are just starting to shift into high gear from talk to reality as fiscal 2014 has just begun.

In Chattanooga, and across the country, Head Start classrooms are closed.

Meals on Wheels in Southeast Tennessee was forced to drop 200 of its 1,000 clients in 10 counties. Nationally, 5,000 Meals on Wheels programs are making similar adjustments.

In Eastern Tennessee, federal court cases are slowing down and some may be dismissed because a decrease in proposed budget funding for federal community defenders means far fewer court-appointed attorneys or investigators for those accused of crimes.

Federal prosecutors' offices, too, face cuts. U.S. Attorney Bill Killian already is down three assistant U.S. attorneys in his criminal division. The 33 remaining attorneys must handle more than 1,800 ongoing cases this year in three branches in Greeneville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.

And the cuts are being made irrespective of need or of impact on raising money - revenue that goes to decrease the federal debt or offset what taxpayers must fund.

Killian's office operated last year on an $8 million budget and recovered $24 million in money stolen from the government through civil and criminal prosecutions, he said recently.

In all phases of federal government, the cuts of sequestration already have meant hiring freezes, unfilled positions, decreases in unemployment checks and assistance, and training and travel cuts.

Tennessee alone is losing $14.8 million for education that eliminates 200 teacher and aide jobs' as well as $2 million in environmental funding and more than $500,000 in job-search help.

Georgia is losing $28.6 million in education funding, $3.5 million in environmental funding and $837,000 in job-search assistance.

Alabama will lose about $11 million in education dollars, $2 million for environmental help, and nearly a half million for job searches.

Congress averted air travel interruptions and kept funding for meat inspectors and air traffic controllers, groups represented by powerful unions and lobbyists. And, after all, congressional Republicans had to get in and out of Washington to filibuster.

Even Republicans thought Americans would freak out if the military and national security was affected, so special appropriations were made in those areas, as well.

But for the most part, services that affect Joe Public were left to dwindle.

"The impacts of the sequester have been hard to document, but it really is a diminution of services," Sharon Parrott, vice president for budget policy and economic opportunity at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told a writer for The Atlantic.

The across-the-board reductions were supposed to be so painful to both defense and nondefense discretionary programs that Republicans and Democrats would flock to the negotiating table to find a compromise. Instead, many Republicans openly profess love of the cuts, even though the deficit has not been slashed. Big surprise.

But the needy, the unemployed and overworked government offices have suffered class cancellations, fewer meals, smaller checks and staff layoffs.

Congress was exempt: Its members are not unemployed, poor or hungry. And, their planes got them to their fillibusters on time.