How To Punish Middle America


Sequestration began to arrive more obviously this week. Thousands of federal employees in Hampton Roads found themselves idle for a day out of five. Next week will be the same. And the week after.

Add that to arbitrary cuts across federal programs and the civilian employers who provide goods and services, and you have a building shock to a still-fragile economy.

A day’s furlough each week amounts to a 20 percent cut in pay. That means those families will have less to spend.

That’s how a slow economy becomes even slower, all thanks to a feckless Washington that would be comically inept were it not so infuriating.

That is unlikely to improve. Congress has ceased even trying to address the long-term effects of the budget deal it struck in 2011 because it couldn’t actually agree on spending.

The sequester, as everyone in Hampton Roads knows, was supposed to be the consequence so severe and mindless that no sensible politician would ever let it happen. Even Congress would have to come up with an alternative to such economic sabotage.

Except Congress couldn’t. And so the arbitrary budget cuts – known as the sequester – went into effect, and Washington returned to its favorite game of blaming the other guy.

As Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, told military and civilian leaders last week, 2014 is likely to be much the same as 2013.

That means reductions in military operations: in ships and squadrons ready to sail and fly. It means cuts in construction and repairs and equipment purchases – u

nless Congress can reach a deal to avoid some $52 billion in automatic cuts in the Defense Department alone.

It can’t, as proven by what’s happening here on every idle Monday.

In the slow motion of furloughs and postponed purchases, the economy in a military-dependent place like Hampton Roads is likely to grind for months. Home prices won’t rise as much as they would otherwise. People probably won’t be able to afford as many dinners out. They may not buy as many clothes, or appliances or cars. They may postpone renovations and additions.

Even if furloughs can be avoided in 2014 – as Greenert hopes – the effects of sequestration will still be felt in that year and beyond.

Everyone agrees that the sequester is a bad idea. Across-the-board budget cuts are by definition arbitrary, which means that the things that need deeper cuts don’t get them, while the things that need protection don’t get it.

All that adds up to a military less ready than it should be, with a slower economy than necessary.

“I face a pincer movement,” said U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. “I have on my far left a group of people that just don’t believe that we ought to have a strong defense…. On my far right, I see people that if you cut $19 billion, they’re not happy because you didn’t cut $20 billion.”

It might be a help if more people in Washington were looking out for all the millions of Americans caught in the middle.

Back to Top