Every evening, when I get back home to my district, I look back on Washington and shake my head with the same sense of frustration being expressed by so many of my constituents. We all have a right to expect more from our government so it’s no wonder that these seemingly endless budget battles are breeding a deep cynicism across the country.
It wasn’t always this way. Congress never used to leave Washington without attending to critical deadlines that affect the basic functions of government – such as passing a transportation bill or a farm bill or an FAA reauthorization. Unfortunately, the current Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has indulged an increasingly ideological group of lawmakers who thrive on gridlock and partisanship. The failure to avoid the so called “sequestration” is simply the latest example. I voted against sequestration because I feared this very scenario.
Last week, indiscriminate, across-the-board spending cuts took effect, slashing funding for critical federal responsibilities counted on by millions of Americans. I believe a majority of members of Congress would have preferred to avoid the sequestration by substituting a balanced approach to deficit reduction – one that included savings and revenue. However, Speaker Boehner refused to bring such a bill to the floor. So, even though everyone agrees that sequestration is a “dumb idea,” on March 1st, President Obama was forced to issue the order implementing it across all federal agencies.
With nearly 80 federal facilities and 300,000 federal and military employees, Marylanders stand to suffer disproportionately from these cuts. Sequestration will raid our treasury when we should be maintaining support for key investments such as Head Start, crime prevention, education, job training, health care and protection of the environment. It simply defies common sense to place an additional drag on Maryland’s economy and the nation’s economy at precisely the moment when we are beginning to see signs of real recovery. Estimates are that this self-inflicted wound to the economy could cost 750,000 jobs over the next seven months.
I recognize that government must find savings, but that should be done in a careful, measured way, not by taking a meat axe to the federal budget or by giving favored treatment to special interests. Inexplicably, the Republicans in Congress have refused to eliminate huge taxpayer subsidies to the oil and gas industry, whose top five companies in 2011 posted profits of over $137 billion. How can we justify cuts to the Head Start program while these unwarranted subsidies continue to flow? I also believe that we can find additional revenue to achieve deficit reduction while protecting critical investments. That means eliminating tax loopholes that benefit Wall Street and the super wealthy in our country.
At the end of the day, budget gimmicks such as sequestration are fundamentally disrespectful to hard-working Americans who expect Congress to manage the federal government in a more responsible way. I was convinced at the outset that such an approach would be destructive.
The budget process is entirely about choices. By examining the priorities we set, you can draw conclusions about our values as a nation. I believe that our greatest value is preserving opportunity for all Americans. The auto-pilot budgeting employed by sequestration is not responsible governing and it doesn’t honor our values. It’s time for Republicans to help us work toward a balanced solution to our fiscal challenges – one that achieves deficit reduction over the long term while also maintaining investment in the critical priorities that will make our nation strong.