Sequestration is a political game that could cause real pain [Editorial]

March 05, 2013

After bumping our heads on the debt ceiling, then teetering on the fiscal cliff, we are now threatened with something called sequestration. Had anyone even heard that word before a few months ago? Can anyone define it?

Around these parts, it's all too real. Federal government workers and contractors wait nervously to see what these automatic spending cuts will mean in job furloughs and program trims. In Howard and Baltimore counties alone, tens of thousands of families owe their paycheck to the government.

Essentially, Congress lit a fuse a few years ago on an austerity package that would blow up this month. Because it was set to kick in automatically if no action is taken, Congress can impose the cuts without actually doing anything now. Each member can go to voters and say, "I didn't do it."

And, of course, the politicians can also stand at the podium in front of the cameras and point their fingers across the aisle, call the opposition the blameworthy party, and bask in the applause of their base.

The occasions for posturing seem endless. The Republicans talk about the spend-happy Democrats and President Obama harrumphs that it's all "dumb, arbitrary" and "a choice that Republicans in Congress have made." One can imagine them trading scripts backstage like professional wrestlers.

They're making hay, but for many in Baltimore and Howard counties, the sun ain't shining.

Spending cuts of $85 billion are the stakes in this cynical game. The cuts are expected to lead to long lines at airports, furloughs of federal workers, reduced access to Head Start programs for young students and reductions in food inspection and border security.

Most accounts put the cutbacks at 9 percent for nondefense programs and 13 percent for defense. With the Social Security complex, Fort Meade and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, our region may see serious impact. No wonder families are nervous.

A program of spending cuts may have merit if applied judiciously, but the sequestration looks arbitrary and capricious.

Americans — perhaps especially those in central Maryland where the fed's employment footprint is so large — have grown so weary of the inertia in Washington over incessant, unnecessary budgetary crises like this that they may not bother to do anything, such as contact their representative in congress. They should anyway.

Sequestration is political gamesmanship, but it could have sobering consequences in real households here.

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