The term "sequester" hides from Americans the damage being wrought by a GOP-led Congress recklessly bent on slashing programs that help poor and working-class people. A sequester means automatic across-the-board spending cuts. It means 10,000 teachers will lose their jobs. It means 70,000 preschoolers will miss a Head Start education. It means 1.5 million women and their families will be deprived of nutrition assistance. Local fire departments and the most vulnerable seniors will feel the effects. The cuts will hit poor people the hardest, increasing the class-wealth gap, and also mean a greater racial-wealth divide.
A total of $85 billion in automatic budget cuts will take effect between now and Sept. 30. Tea party Republicans beam with glee over such cuts. After all they won't cut into corporate profits. According to The New York Times, "sequestration could cost the country about 700,000 jobs, Wall Street does not expect the cuts to substantially reduce corporate profits - or seriously threaten the recent rally in the stock markets."
The newspaper of record goes on to quote a Bank of America official as saying "the market wants more austerity."
That's what the sequestration is: austerity. The budget cuts are Wall Street's prescription for keeping profits high while the rest of us, the 99 percenters, suffer. The Republicans will keep doing their bidding unless the 99 percenters speak up and force them to act.
But acting cannot include cutting benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The president has offered to put those hard won programs on the table, even though he has admitted that Social Security does not add to the deficit. Social Security is designed to pay for itself, and with a few adjustments - like raising the salary cap - the fund won't be threatened by changes in demographics.
Wall Street and corporate class have been dying to get at the Social Security fund - and Medicare/Medicaid spending for their own profiteering schemes. That is the danger in putting the American people's programs on the table with scoundrels.
Austerity and budget cuts have not worked in Europe. Economy after economy is suffering and the ordinary people with them. The protests and strikes there are an indication of the level of struggle that's needed to turn around the situation.
The real crime here is that Congress can end all of this today. It takes only one simple vote, and the sequester can be cancelled. Republicans say they have to see substantial budget cuts before they can do this. There have, since 2011, been as much as $1.9 trillion in budget cut. There have been only $600 billion in tax increases on the rich and even those were not really increases - they were simply a cancellation of tax cuts the rich should never have gotten in the first place.
As the labor movement says, the economy is suffering from a jobs deficit! The government needs to spend in wise investments in building the country's infrastructure for the 21st Century, clean energy development, public and higher education, just to name a few desperately needed investments. Jobs create more jobs. People with jobs pay more in taxes and that's how deficits go down.
The time is now for the American people to stand united and demand that Congress do what is well within its power - cancel the sequester immediately.
Photo: About 100 constituents of Sen. Dick Durbin presented 5,000 signatures to his Chicago office demanding jobs not cuts, and no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, Dec. 10, 2012. (PW/John Bachtell)