Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lummis & the excitement about sequestration

Speaking of sequestration budget cuts, Representative Cynthia Lummis recently told the legislature, 85% of which is, like her, Republican, “I am excited,” She said, “It will be the first time since I’ve been in Congress that we really have had significant cuts.”

I’ve witnessed enough of these shows to know that much of her audience resembled a bobble-head-doll convention. Nodding heads and smiling faces but no thoughts of the gaping-hole sequestration leaves in a state budget they’d already cut by 6.5%.

Wyoming legislators need hundreds of millions of federal dollars to meet the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget. Ironic, isn’t it?

Sequestration is a game of Russian roulette secured by an unwritten agreement that nobody would pull the trigger. Across-the-board cuts would do too much damage to the economy. Neither the President nor the congress thought they’d actually happen. They underestimated the prideful dysfunction of Congress eloquently symbolized by Lummis’ “excitement” about what most view as economic illiteracy.

Per capita, Wyoming feeds at the federal trough more than any state. Budgets for services approved by the legislature rely on federal appropriations. For example, the Wyoming Department of Health budget anticipates receiving several hundred millions from Congress.  

Sequestration cuts in some healthcare programs will amount to as much as 8% on top of the significant budget cuts during Governor Freudenthal’s last year and Governor Mead’s first two years. The harmful impact would have been offset if the bobble-head-doll conventioneers had expanded Medicaid coverage for the uninsured.

Across-the-board, federal appropriations on which legislators built Wyoming’s budget will fall by 8.8% with sequestration. Both parties agreed to the threat, but actually carrying it out is the result of priorities of congressional Republicans. If reducing the deficit was the goal, there were choices other than sequestration. Less damaging, more precise budget cuts could have been combined with closing tax loopholes and increasing revenue as recommended by the Simpson-Bowles commission.

Senator John Barrasso spoke for GOP colleagues saying he’ll take the risks over taxing the rich even one thin dime. "The American people need to know tax cuts are off the table and the Republican Party is not in any way going to trade spending cuts for a tax increase." Instead, they demanded extreme cuts. Lummis was “excited.” Speaker Boehner was “dismayed.”

Note, the cuts do not only fall on health, education, housing, child welfare and other social programs long targeted by the GOP. Neither do the cuts leave Lummis’s constituents unharmed. Cody businesses are looking at serious economic losses. Sequester means the National Park Service can’t open snow-packed roads into Yellowstone as early. According to one report, when angry Park County constituents confronted Lummis, she accepted no responsibility. Lummis didn’t tell them how excited sequester made her. The courage of those convictions vanished in the Wyoming wind. Instead she blamed the Park Service.

Cheyenne’s business community will be impacted as Warren Air Force Base and other federal workers are furloughed and their spending declines. Wyoming farmers and ranchers will see a slow down in sales of their products when federal food-safety employees are furloughed.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates sequester cuts will reduce public and private-sector employment by 750,000 jobs in 2013 and reduce GDP by 0.5 percent.

Some Republicans say the fears are overblown. Lummis ridicules Obama’s attempts to comply with the law by reducing services. Maybe Obama is wrong. Maybe Lummis is wrong as her GOP colleague, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) believes. He says Republicans who downplay the negative impact are out-of-touch. Regardless, gambling on the nation’s economy to make a point is a poor way to do business. All want the deficit brought under control, most want that accomplished without causing another recession from which Wyoming won’t be immune.

Now it’s “game-on.” The partisan fingers are pointing, heads are bobbing, tongues are wagging. Politicians are laying their bets. Of course, it’s easier for them. Neither Lummis nor any other members of Congress are being furloughed, their wages aren’t being cut, and unfortunately, their jobs are not at-risk.

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