By Janis Bowdler, Director, Wealth-Building Policy Project, NCLR
It’s official. Congress and the president respectively passed and signed a continuing resolution that maintains the arbitrary across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration through September. While much of the fanfare in the press has focused on the contrast between the budget proposals offered by either chamber, less attention has been paid to lawmakers’ quiet acceptance of deep and damaging budget cuts. The indiscriminate cuts included in sequestration were intentionally set by Congress to be so unacceptable and painful that lawmakers would surely never allow them to come to fruition. Sadly, the budget cuts are that painful, and Congress and the president did let them happen.
This is not what Latinos had in mind when we cast our votes in record numbers last fall. Latinos across this country took to the polls to elect lawmakers who they thought would have their backs, lawmakers who were committed to fighting for policies that would improve the economy and create jobs while also investing in programs that open up access to education and health care. Where are those leaders now?
The passive indecision that we are seeing from lawmakers in Washington is astounding. The Senate and the House of Representatives gave up on finding consensus on their budget proposals, leaving the rest of us spinning. The sequester guts important services with proven track records, such as child care for working moms, rental assistance for needy families, and training for the unemployed. But that is not the worst part. Even before this latest round of budget slashing, working families already contributed 72 percent of deficit reduction in the form of spending cuts, compared to only 28 percent from new revenue.
Cementing this unbalanced approach to deficit reduction is irresponsible, unacceptable, and downright dangerous. The automatic cuts will reduce job creation by 750,000 this year, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. This is bad news for Latinos, who still face a 9.6 percent unemployment rate in 2013. It simply makes no sense to target some of the most vulnerable communities and force them to pay an inordinate amount to reduce the deficit without asking a penny more from those who have yet to pay and can afford to most. When working families can’t afford the basics, our whole economy suffers.
When Congress returns from recess in April, they should come back ready to fix the mistake they made. The sequester must be replaced with a fair and equitable budget that grows the economy, invests in the future, and protects vulnerable people. This is far from a simple task, but we elected our officials to stand up for our values. At its heart, that is what the federal budget represents: a statement of values. It’s time they delivered.