Sequestration — Wash-ington’s term for preventable and potentially devastating spending cuts — appears increasingly likely to move from the hypothetical to the real later this week. And with it will come real pain to real people.
The cuts — tens of billions of dollars in both military and domestic spending — are the result of a 2011 deal between our nation’s leading Republicans and Democrats whose purpose was to guarantee actions so dire that lawmakers would do what was necessary to prevent them from happening.
Their time is about up, and instead of scrambling for 11th-hour solutions that would involve compromises, the two sides have spent recent days blaming each other and positioning themselves for the political fallout to come. To Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s warning that the cuts would “put us on a path toward a hollow force,” House Speaker John Boehner agreed and pointed the finger at the president. For his part, the president seems confident Republicans will take most of the heat.
Meanwhile, hundreds of civilian workers at Fort Riley and their peers at military installations all across this country are bracing for furloughs that will result in 20-percent pay cuts through at least September, when the fiscal year ends.
The pay cuts at Fort Riley are just part of the estimated $55 million hit the post will be expected to absorb. That, in turn, is just part of the $46 billion in cuts that the Defense Department will have to make this fiscal year.
In Kansas, more than 6,500 civilian employees will be furloughed, with total pay losses approaching $40 million. Also, military construction will be curtailed, claiming about 240 Kansas jobs. At Fort Leavenworth, the impact will exceed $160 million. The statewide effect on Army cuts alone comes to $414 million and almost 8,000 jobs.
Some of the people who will lose jobs or be furloughed live in Manhattan and other communities near Fort Riley. They’re neighbors, and the same sequester that will change some of their lives will ripple throughout our community and take its toll on other residents whose jobs depend on the domestic programs to be slashed or whose family members patronize those programs. As they buy fewer items, the ripples could be felt in other layoffs as merchants watching sales slow make adjustments of their own. Growth could stall as city revenue, dependent in part on sales taxes, falls short of expectations.
Though it will be negative, no one knows the precise impact of the sequester. Predictions run the gamut from a slowing of the recovery to a return to recession with unemployment climbing again. Some regard the sequester as necessary to bring us to our collective senses. Perhaps they’re right, though we doubt they’ll pay as direct a price as Americans who lose their jobs will.
And perhaps they’ll come to their senses before inflicting this unnecessary harm on so many of their fellow citizens.