The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next." So said President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address two weeks ago. "Let's agree, right here, right now, to keep the people's government open, pay our bills on time and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another."
So much for that. On Friday, a manufactured crisis of the first magnitude goes into effect, a political contrivance of rash spending cuts across the board that will visit personal suffering on individual Americans and a body blow to the recovering economy.
The name of this folly is a sequester, a technical term that in this case means a fiscal tomahawk. That it will automatically start swinging at the end of this week is the fault of both parties in Congress, but the blame falls harder on Republicans. It is they who are riddled with the Tea Party mentality of no compromise and who have threatened to bring ruin in one phony fiscal crisis after another unless they get their way.
It should not have come to this. In 2011 a so-called super committee of House and Senate members -- the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction -- was supposed to find $1.2 trillion in savings in the federal budget. The terrible cost of failure -- the across-the board budget cuts affecting both domestic and military spending -- was supposed to ensure an agreement. The committee members, hostage to their own ideologies, failed anyway.
Now the American people will pay the price. Some Republicans have argued that what is about to happen won't be as severe as advertised -- that the Obama administration is seeking to scare people -- but the cuts are not something in the abstract and are scary enough. Defense cuts, once considered unthinkable, will harm the readiness of U.S. forces to do their mission, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
That's not all. Some air traffic controllers will be furloughed and airport security personnel reduced, causing real problems for air travelers. Many thousands of government workers, both for civilian agencies and the military, will have to be furloughed. There will be fewer inspectors safeguarding the nation's food chain, fewer women and children receiving nutrition aid to survive. Fewer vaccines against childhood diseases will be administered.
The states, already struggling with the remnants of the economic downturn, will also take their hits. According to an administration analysis, Pennsylvania would have $26.4 million less in federal funds to spend on education, putting the jobs of 360 teachers and aides at risk and cutting access to Head Start for 2,300 children.
Every responsible person recognizes that federal deficits must be reduced over the long term, but this is not the way to do it. The greatest need for the nation at this hour is more jobs, the conservative obsession with deficit reduction notwithstanding. More employment means more tax receipts and a lasting foundation on which to cut the deficit. A sequester that kills jobs just when the economy is showing new life is madness.
Members of Congress, do your jobs. Work with the president whose vision of America was recently endorsed by voters across the nation. What he has said is true: The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.