A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

‘Sequester away,’ many think – just not me

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., March 21, 22 or 23

The lyric comes from singers as varied as Loretta Lynn and David Crowder, but it’s consistent: “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.”

That line also might sum up the fascination with austerity and easy acceptance of sequestration: “Everybody wants to cut spending, but nobody wants to be affected.”

Not yet very evident, austerity went into effect this month when Congress didn’t compromise on budget issues, and $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts kicked in. Sequestration isn’t abstract or distant, either. Illinoisans are going to be affected from Chicago (population 2.7 million) to Shumway (pop. 228). Here are government estimates of a dozen imminent outcomes in Illinois –
• Child care: 1,100 kids’ access cut.
• Clean air and water: $6.4 million in environmental funding is cut.
• Head Start: 2,700 kids’ access to early education is threatened.
• Job-search assistance: 50,780 people who need help won’t get it.
• Public safety: $587,000 in justice assistance grants is lost.
• Military readiness: $26 million in Army and Air Force spending in Illinois was eliminated; 14,000 civilians here will be laid off.
• Nutrition assistance for seniors: $764,000 going to meals for seniors is vanishing.
• Public health: Illinois will lose about $968,000 in funds to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats (diseases, disasters or attacks).
• STOP Violence against Women Program: The state’s share of nationwide cuts means $273,000 less to spend on this in Illinois, so about 1,000 victims won’t get help.
• Education: $33.4 million cut from primary and secondary schools; 460 teacher and aide jobs at risk
• Vaccines for children: A cut of $357,000 just in Illinois will mean 5,230 children won’t get vaccines.
• Work-study jobs: 2,650 jobs are at risk.

“Austerity is the policy preferred by the private interests that (1) brought on the [financial] crisis, (2) secured the government bailouts … for themselves, and (3) are government's chief creditors,” said Richard Wolff, author of “Democracy at Work.”

“Led by major banks, those interests now threaten the government (that just bailed them out) with higher interest rates or no more credit unless it imposes higher taxes (mostly on others) and reduced spending (mostly on others) to lower deficits,” Wolff continued. “Distracting struggles over ‘fiscal cliffs’ and ‘debt ceilings’ disguise the reality that both parties' austerity policies represent … gross government subservience to large capitalists.”

As for austerity’s sequestration, in the next few weeks you may enter a supermarket and see less meat in the freezer. Blame Congress. If you’re at the airport to meet visitors and their plane’s delayed or cancelled, blame Congress. If you’re driving a guy to Danville’s VA hospital for rehab, and you get there and the rehabilitation specialist isn’t there, blame Congress.

The “sequester” is a term for the budget slashes Congress forced on the country, courtesy of Tea Party Republicans. But Democrats are complicit, too. They agreed to this foolishness during last year’s debt ceiling standoff. It seems both sides thought a sequester was so lousy a majority of lawmakers wouldn’t want it.

The AFL-CIO estimates the sequester could cost the country 750,000 jobs this year. One of its unions, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) – whose members bring you many federal services – told Press Associates Inc. about some consequences:
• More than 6,000 meat and poultry inspectors, like other federal workers, will be laid off. No inspections means processing plants the inspectors visit must shut down until they’re inspected, so there’ll be less meat and chicken on store shelves – and prices will rise.
• Flight delays and cancellations. Peorian and outdoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said, “There has to be some kind of furlough of air traffic controllers, and that then will also begin to curtail or eliminate the opportunity for them to guide planes in and out of airports.”
• No rehab for wounded warriors. Medical care and VA hospitals themselves are exempt from the sequester, but VA workers in other fields, like rehabilitation, aren’t. So veterans who need rehab may not get it.

The AFGE says there’s a way to avoid impending chaos: Stop it and go through the budget, item by item, and look for real savings. For example, reduce the $300 billion the government spends on high pay and perks for contractors and execs.

Also, restore regular tax rates – not reduced rates – on capital gains, and add a tiny trading tax, which would raise $350 billion, on financial transactions.

The sequester is $85 billion, so such a tax on financiers’ finagling would raise four times that much. And it would make people who produced the Great Recession pay.

[PICTURED: Illustration from AFL-CIO]

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