Monet Gerald on Understanding Congress: Why you should care about sequestration

Monet Gerald is a student journalist specializing in politics and public affairs.

Monet Gerald is a student journalist specializing in politics and public affairs.

Politicians’ jargon, like that of lawyers and doctors, can become very confusing for the everyday citizen, so much so that we often treat them like lawyers and doctors — assume they know more about a subject than we do and let them take control.

Many people do not understand politics and our government outside of a presidential election. In today’s busy world, trying to educate and inform yourself can seem like trying to learn a second language.

Congress is extremely important, of course; it is the legislative branch of our government. A country with no laws is hard to imagine, but Congress can sometimes make things difficult to understand and seem impossible to get done.

“Sequestration” was originally a legal term that referred to the act of valuable property being taken into custody by an agent of the court for safekeeping. This act was to prevent the property from being disposed of or abused before a dispute over its ownership can be resolved.

The term “sequestration” has been adapted by Congress in more recent years to describe a new fiscal policy in an effort to reform congressional voting procedures to make the size of the federal government’s budget deficit a matter of conscious choice. If total government spending is in excess of the limits Congress laid down earlier for itself in the annual budget resolution, and if Congress cannot agree on ways to cut back the total or pass a new budget resolution, then an automatic form of spending cutbacks take place. This automatic spending cut is called “sequestration.”

Under sequestration an amount of money equal to the difference between the cap set in the budget resolution and the amount that should be handed over to each government agency is withheld, or sequestered, by the treasury. In a perfect world every agency would have the same percentage of its appropriation withheld in order to take back excessive spending across the board.

However, in this country not all agencies are created equal and Congress has chosen to exempt certain programs from sequestration like Social Security and parts of the defense budget. This means that sequestration would have to take back larger shares of the budgets of the un-exempted programs in order to achieve the total cutbacks required, practically crippling the agency.

Because an overwhelming majority of business that goes on every day in Washington does not really affect us directly, it’s not hard to see why average citizens pick and choose what political matters they will pay attention to and voice an opinion about, and which matters they view as just everyday D.C. chatter. The fact of the matter is that the sequester will have an impact on many middle-class families, most of which are just now getting back to some form of normalcy after the recession.

According to the White House, now that the sequestration has taken effect, areas that will be affected include primary and secondary education, military readiness, and public health among others.

This year alone Texas is expected to see:

  • Loss of over $67 million in funding for primary and secondary education. This will put over 900 teacher jobs at risk and approximately 280 fewer schools would receive funding. In addition Texas will lose over $50 million in funds for teachers and aid who help children with disabilities.
  • Head Start and Early Head Start services eliminated for about 4,800 children.
  • Over 4,700 fewer low income students would receive aid for college and 1,400 fewer students will get work-study jobs to help pay for college.
  • Loss of about $8.5 million in environmental funding for clean water and air quality, and could lose over $2 million in grants for fish and wildlife protection.
  • Approximately 52,000 civilian Department of Defense employees will be furloughed. This would reduce gross pay of over $270 million. Army base operation funding will be cut over $200 million, funding for Air Force operation will be cut by $27 million, and the Navy will reduce procurement of the Joint Strike Fighter and cancel scheduled Blue Angels shows in Corpus Christi and Fort Worth.
  • Loss of over $1 million in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement, courts, crime prevention and education, corrections, drug treatment and enforcements, and victim and witness initiatives.
  • Job search assistance will lose over $2 million in funding, leaving over 83,000 fewer people without help to find employment.
  • Up to 2,300 disadvantaged children could lose child care, over 9,700 fewer children will receive vaccines, and there will be a loss close to $2.5 million in funds to respond to public health threats including infectious diseases, natural disasters and 28,000 fewer HIV tests.

These numbers are almost the same, if not worse, for states such as California, Michigan, which has been one of the hardest hit states of the recession, and New York and New Jersey, which are still trying to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

In the weeks since sequestration took effect on March 1, much of the talk about sequestration on a national level has been about the suspension of the White House tours. This talk has left many political analysts to argue if the administration has dramatically overemphasized the impact of sequestration, while other pundits argue that sequestration stops the recovery of the economy.

In comparison to national news, local news stations around the country have been focusing on the impact the $85 billion in cuts is having on citizens outside the Belt Way. In Austin, sequestration has led to the Department of Housing and Urban Development cutting 5 percent of its budget. The Housing Authority of Austin currently serves about 18,000 citizens with another 10,000 on waitlists for public housing and rental assistance.

Many of Nevada’s children could soon feel the effects of sequestration ̶ programs that feed the hungry are taking a hit and 50 percent of Nevada children rely on free or reduced school lunch. Over $400,000 is being cut from Louisiana’s public health programs and could mean cuts for natural disaster relief. Approximately 173 control towers at small airports across the country are being shut down

In comparison to national news, local news stations around the country have been focusing on the impact the $85 billion in cuts is having on citizens outside the Belt Way: In Austin sequestration has led to the Department of Housing and Urban Development cutting 5 percent of its budget. The Housing Authority of Austin currently serves about 18,000 citizens with another 10,000 on waitlists for public housing and rental assistance; cuts to programs that feed the hungry could affect the 50 percent of Nevada children that rely on free or reduced school lunch; over $400,000 is being cut from Louisiana’s public health programs and could mean cuts for natural disaster relief and 173 control towers have been closed at small airports across the country.

While some citizens across the country have been laid off or furloughed in anticipation of budget cuts, many still are not feeling the effects of sequestration. Only time will tell if these citizens will feel the effects or if Congress can come to an agreement to end sequestration.

Monet Gerald is a student journalist at Tarleton State University and is a senior in the Communication Studies Department. 

3 Responses to Monet Gerald on Understanding Congress: Why you should care about sequestration

  1. Mack Hargrave Reply

    April 27, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    As with all matters involving politics, clarity in the sense we would apply it to our own lives, is deliberately MIA in this matter of “sequestration”. Clarity is what we do without so often that we are nearly unable to even notice its absence or demand its primacy. And our executive branch is so addicted to its own power, and contemptuous of us out here, that it will not risk plain talk. For example, why even refer to a decrease in the projected spending increase as “reduction”? Doesn’t it even give you a headache to hear it said? In plain talk, that would be still called an “increase in spending”.

    Wouldn’t it be refreshing for our President to give us the courtesy of speaking with clarity? It should not take you long in this life to conclude that people who talk to you like he does are trying to put something over on you.

    And if this spending increase that is still coming will fall so short of covering our needs, then does it not stand to reason that every effort to prioritize spending should be made? Even President Obama has railed against waste. Yet he gives little if any solid evidence that waste is even on his radar. The House offered to give the President the full authority to adjust the “sequestration” reductions so he could lessen the pain for needed programs. The White House quickly but quietly announced that that bill would be vetoed if it hit the Presidents desk. Are you getting suspicious yet?

    Very few things are as certain as the danger of the hyper-spending binge that this President is on. This small decrease in the tsunami of spending increases would not be noticed if honest governing was a priority. And the only clarity that we have is in retrospect. What promises have been kept? What honesty have we seen? What humility? What careful respect has been given to the many of us who have differing viewpoints?

    The matter of “sequestration” is just another case of trust. It seems especially naïve to trust in this fox we have in our national henhouse.

  2. Darrell Best Reply

    April 19, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Thank you for your article, however, you need to do a bit more research…your article says “…according to the White House…”, which is where you lose all credibility. You should rely on independent sources for your story, like the bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The White House has a dog in the hunt and anything they put out about “sequester” (that they initiated) is suspect, at best. You do realize that what is being “sequestered” is the projected growth in the budget and in fact agencies will receive more money this year than last year. If you broke the numbers down to numbers we all can relate to, if our nearly 4 trillion dollar budget was reduced proportionally to $100,000, the cut to the growth of federal spending would be 25 cents…other than that good article, you explained things so everyday people can understand.

  3. Dan Malone Reply

    April 19, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Finally, someone explained sequestration in plain language — and has some hard facts about the impact on Texas. This writer needs to be syndicated.

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