Government improves our daily lives, whether we realize it or not. It provides for the teacher in our children's classrooms. The roads and bridges on which we drive. The research seeking cures for cancer and Alzheimer's. The safe medications we take and safe food we eat. The police who patrol our neighborhoods, and the first responders who help in times of crisis. The air-traffic controllers who ensure our flights get us to our destinations, safely.
Such basic services and more are all under attack in the name of deficit reduction. Without bipartisan action in Washington, the modern conveniences we all take for granted will be compromised.
There is widespread agreement that our nation is on an unsustainable fiscal path. Several bipartisan “gangs” of experts have recommended we reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade through a “balanced approach” that addresses both sides of the deficit equation — cut what we spend, and increase revenue through tax reform. Yet members of Congress still remain hopelessly gridlocked. If lawmakers fail to work together to heed these calls for balance, core government functions will be cut to historically low levels. Millions of jobs will be lost, and the critical services upon which Americans depend will be eliminated.
The drama that led to last year's landmark debt ceiling agreement, the Budget Control Act of 2011, set caps on federal spending over 10 years, resulting in $1 trillion in spending cuts. The new law also directed a congressional joint committee to identify an additional $1.2 trillion in budget savings over 10 years. Ultimately, that committee failed to strike an agreement. We are now facing sequestration, a budget procedure where virtually all federal programs will face deep across-the-board cuts on Jan. 2.
In addition to cuts to the military, the sequester's cuts will impact core government functions that support economic growth, strengthen safety and security, and enrich the lives of every American in every state and community across the nation. These core functions — referred to in Washington as nondefense discretionary, or “NDD” programs — include medical and scientific research, education and job training, transportation and infrastructure, public safety and law enforcement, public health, housing, and weather monitoring and environmental protection, among others.
Together, these programs represent the second-smallest share of the federal budget. They are not the drivers of the debt. And yet they are always the most vulnerable to cuts, and have already been slashed in the name of deficit reduction.
Lawmakers from both political parties and a bevy of independent experts, including the Congressional Budget Office, agree that sequestration's indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts will have a devastating impact on our lagging economy. Congress and the president must work together to achieve a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Only through balance can we avoid sequestration and put our nation on a sustainable fiscal path.
Boyd, of Norman, is a former Democratic member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.