News and Tribune

March 4, 2013

BEAM: Cutbacks and Chianti: The secret lives of the sequestered

By AMANDA BEAM
Local columnist

— Let’s face the facts. Whenever the government makes cuts of any type, someone will be affected financially. Discontinued social programs would most likely result in jobs being lost and greater hardships on those serviced. Fewer infrastructure projects would mean less money for engineering firms and their workers. Reductions in spending always will have consequences. 

Take the sequestration that went into effect Friday. 

I hate the word sequestration. Partially because the term’s actual meaning — confiscation or seizure — really has little to do with how the government has decided to apply the word. Using across-the-board cuts to force the government to trim its ever-growing budget has no relation to seizures, unless you count the related stress some workers will suffer after they get a gander of their reduced paychecks. I’m assuming the term “screwjob” was already taken. 

Of course, the bigger reason I dislike the word sequestration is because this time around the policy affects my family. On Friday, my husband received a letter from his higher-ups that he would be forced to take a day of furlough every two weeks. 

While any additional time off without pay doesn’t feel good financially, the thought of having the hubby at home two extra days a month for a wee bit doesn’t sound too terrible either. Cue the chocolate strawberries and red wine, please. 

We’re lucky. I know other federal employees won’t have it so easy.

But, during these troubling economic times, many workers in the private sector have had their benefits reduced. I’m not going to complain about ours. We’ll make do with less. Of course, it means we won’t be able to spend as much. Unlike the government, we actually make our ends meet. 

Wait a second. Do you hear that faint drip? That’s the trickling down of my family’s income cuts heading to our local stores, charitable organizations and recreational programs. I like to think of it as trickle-down economics in reverse, or a new economic theory called not paying it forward. Either way, our cuts will float further down the fiscal pipeline to a store near you. 

Yeah, any cuts will have a consequence, as we have seen. Yet America still must do something about its spending problem. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think leaving this nation trillions upon trillions dollars in debt is exactly the best gift to give to the next generation, even if they do call themselves the uninventive name of Generation Y. 

So how do we fix this problem? If I thought this sequestration was the answer, our family would take our medicine and move on. But, guess what. It’s not. Many economists say that this reduction in spending will barely touch our budget crisis because it fails to address the government’s mandatory financial obligations. 

Yep. It’s the big three. Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Government spending on these programs constituted more than 60 percent of our 2012 federal budget.

Until we find a way to deal with the skyrocketing cost of these programs, all the other hack-job cuts will remain useless. 

Now, to my mother and Aunt Lucille in particular, I’m not advocating any changes to your monthly Social Security benefits. You can call the lawyer and put me back in the will. What I am saying is that Congress needs to take a hard look at how to bring entitlement-program spending under control. It’s just not fiscally feasible to continue down this green brick road paved with someone else’s dollars. 

Change will be hard. People will be affected adversely. But a good member of Congress will know that, in order to survive, they must make the right decisions, not shift the authority to an automatic mechanism when they fail to agree. 

Do these servants of the people still exist? Our elected officials, it seems, find it difficult to vote for legislation that will make some of their constituents less than happy. They like their jobs in D.C., and know an unhappy voter is a surefire way to the unemployment line. 

Oh wait, their pension plans are actually pretty darn good. Maybe they’ll be in the Ruth’s Chris early seating line instead. 

Anyway, fear of losing an election often drives many to vote based on popularity rather than productivity. The needs of the nation are forsaken for the needs of an elected official who really likes that view of the Washington Monument. With the congressional approval rating hovering around 15 percent, maybe they should stop schlepping about the fine Beltway dinner parties and start trying something different. 

Another kink in the old democratic machine that has also been surfacing recently is the lack of bipartisanship. No one wants to compromise. And, better yet, each political party wants to blame the other for a wide range of failures. 

The president wags his finger at the House Republicans. The House Republicans banter back at the president. Endless accusations clog the gears of our government. Nothing of substance gets accomplished except some mighty confrontational, albeit rather humorous, sound bites on “The Daily Show.”

For the love of all that is sacred, would you please stop the blame game. There’s enough culpability to go around. In all actuality, it’s everyone’s fault. Republicans. Democrats. Heck, I’ll even throw in those wacky independents. Take responsibility, work together and actually figure something out. 

So turn down the lights and throw on the old Barry Manilow vinyl. Maybe chocolate strawberries and a nice Chianti will relax Congress into a more cooperative mood. If not, try to remember the effect our financial troubles will have on future generations. Surely all the alcohol in the world can’t help our elected officials forget about that. 

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at hoosiermandyblog@gmail.com