Lipinski: To avoid sequester, Congress must make compromises

Southtown Star
By Dan Lipinski, Guest

With the reckless budget-slashing sequester scheduled to take effect Friday, it’s time both sides in Washington end the blame game and get to work replacing the across-the-board cuts with a responsible debt reduction plan.

Simply put, the sequester uses a meat cleaver when a scalpel should be used. It’s the wrong way to reduce our debt.
If we don’t act, for 2013 we will make $85 billion in sweeping cuts without choosing between necessary and wasteful spending. We will slash worthwhile programs people need, hurt our slow economic recovery and threaten our military readiness. Furthermore, an additional $1 trillion in across-the-board cuts will take place over the next decade.

I am not shirking our fiscal responsibility by saying the sequester is bad policy. I have been a leader in promoting bipartisan solutions to our growing debt, voted for the Budget Control Act that already cuts more than $1 trillion in discretionary spending over the next decade without the sequester and supported measures that add up to $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction.

Our growing debt is a real threat to America. But the arbitrary cuts in the sequester would stifle our economic growth and undermine essential government operations.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the sequester could cost the country 1 million jobs and lead our economy back into recession. In a recent survey of 1,000 financial industry experts, nearly half said the sequester would lead to a 5 to 10 percent drop in the stock market.

Such sharp cutbacks will also diminish essential government operations. The Defense Department would face major challenges, with half of the cuts in 2013 falling on security agencies. The Navy would be forced to reduce each ship’s budget by 8 percent, which means less maintenance and fewer days at sea.

Elsewhere in government, the Border Patrol and FBI could face furloughs, and the Food and Drug Administration might have to conduct more than 2,000 fewer food safety inspections.

We need a smart plan to replace the sequester. Fortunately, Erskine Bowles, a White House chief of staff for
President Bill Clinton, and former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson unveiled last week a bipartisan deficit reduction plan that can be used as the outline.

The new Bowles-Simpson plan would reduce the federal deficit by about $2.4 trillion more over the next 10 years through a combination of spending cuts, tax reform and new revenue. The new plan updates their first one, which was released in 2010 as part the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
A year ago, I helped bring to the House floor a budget based on those recommendations and was one of a “Brave 38” in the House who supported it — earning the Economic Patriot Award from the Concord Coalition, honoring those who demonstrated a commitment to fiscal responsibility.

While the updated Bowles-Simpson plan is not perfect, it is the best model to not only avoid the sequester but to stabilize the national debt threatening our economy and strengthen entitlement programs.
The purpose of the sequester was to put into place budget cuts that would so be unacceptable to both Democrats and Republicans that both sides would be forced to the bargaining table and to agree to a compromise debt reduction plan.

After failing for a year and a half to come to an agreement, on Jan. 1 we avoided the sequester by kicking the can down the road for two months.

So here we are again, with both sides content to try to pin the blame for this predicament on the other party. To put it bluntly, this is a disgrace.

We must reduce our burdensome debt, but no one believes that the sequester is good public policy.
Bowles and Simpson have again given us an outline to achieve a solution. Now let’s stop the posturing and get to work for the American people.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Democrat, represents Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.