Scary sequester ride begins

Filed under: Opinion,Print | Tags:,

For months, we’ve been publishing stories in the Business Journal warning of possible consequences from the federal spending sequester for the Colorado Springs-area economy.

Political leaders on both sides in Washington stayed upbeat as long as possible, saying the sequester was too damaging — and too indiscriminate — to become reality. Surely, even in the final weeks, Congress and the White House would come to their senses and prevent the cuts that might stop (and even reverse) the nation’s economic recovery.

As we know now, those assurances were hollow, based on nothing but hope.

So, as March arrives, we venture into Sequester Hell, with its estimated $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts crammed into the seven months between now and Sept. 30, the end of the federal government’s 2012-13 fiscal year. Beyond that, the cuts (if not amended or reworked) would add up to $1.2 trillion in 10 years.

Nobody knows just how bad the effects might be. Nobody can say how much we’ll notice the massive defense cuts, totaling half of the sequester’s impact on top of billions already taken out of the Pentagon’s budget. But it’s safe to say we’ll notice the military reductions here in the Army and Air Force. Already, with no fanfare, civilian jobs have vanished and plans have been made for many more unpaid furloughs.

What bothers us most is how intractable the two parties’ national leaders became in these deliberations. (We won’t use the word “negotiations” because that would imply movement toward compromise by both sides.)

The message their inaction sends to Main Street America, and Colorado Springs, is this: They care more about their entrenched positions than they do about the fragile national economy, and certainly Republicans and Democrats alike at the national level do not grasp how the sequester could further decimate whatever remaining respect the general public has for Congress.

We know this: Polls show a clear majority does not want any solution to include cuts to Medicare, Social Security or Medicaid benefits. People would rather see Congress combine cuts with new revenue, such as closing some tax loopholes for mega-corporations and the very wealthy (i.e., turning income into capital gains with lower tax rates) or phasing out huge subsidies to the oil and pharmaceutical industries.

For now, most folks probably would go along with the late-emerging idea of allowing individual agencies to decide specific cuts, instead of forced across-the-board reductions.

Many everyday people feel they’ve already done their part, since they were hit in January with the payroll tax increase — from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent — that nobody in D.C. talked about until it became reality. That alone, combined with fast-rising gasoline prices, has made more and more consumers skittish about spending their money to fuel the local economy in cities around the country.

We don’t know the answers for Congress. We just wish our elected leaders would realize how much their inaction affects local communities, here and throughout the nation.

What will be the reality of this sequester? It might not be Doomsday, but it likely will shake us in ways we don’t realize. And those who insist we won’t even notice the effects should have to be accountable for their indifference.

Who’s at fault? At this point, does it matter? Just fix it.