On Friday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned that the upcoming sequester will lead to longer security lines at airports and increased flight delays. “It’s going to be very painful for the flying public,” he said. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy has called the sequester “craziness.” Republicans say that fears of the sequester are exaggerated, and blame the budget standoff on the president.
No matter whose fault it is, the sequester will disproportionately impact Latinos. It will be bad for the country in general, and particularly harmful for our economy. While Congressional Republicans don’t realize it, it will likely be bad for their party as well.
The sequester is a series of spending cuts scheduled to take effect on March 1. Although they were part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, they were never supposed to happen. These budget cuts were intended as a threat, to force Congress to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion. But Congress couldn’t reach an agreement, and now the cuts are days away.
Latinos should care about the sequester because it will affect our communities. The sequester cuts are automatic – meaning they are also heartless. Seventy thousands preschoolers will be cut from Head Start, according to the National Council of La Raza, and one-third of Head Start preschoolers are Hispanic. More than one million (1.2) fewer low-income students will receive reading and math help under Title 1, which will affect the 37 percent of Latinos attending high poverty schools. The Center for American Progress notes that cuts to unemployment benefits will fall harder on Hispanics, because the Latino unemployment rate is above the national average.
However, the sequester will negatively impact nearly all Americans. Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano warned Congress that the sequester will mean severe cuts to the Border Patrol, which could jeopardize immigration reform. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said that the sequester will disrupt vital nutrition, mental health, and HIV medication programs. Funds for Hurricane Sandy relief will be cut, as will $42.7 billion in military spending. The New York Times reports that the budget cuts are widely seen by economists as a threat to our economic recovery.
Even Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) is troubled by the consequences of the sequester. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, he calls the cuts “deep” and writes that they “threaten U.S. national security, thousands of jobs, and more.” If so, then why is he allowing them to happen? President Obama has offered an alternative to the sequester, consisting of targeted budget cuts and higher taxes on millionaires – but Republicans are against any solution that includes taxes.
The GOP’s stance is out of step with Hispanics and other Americans. A poll by Latino Decisions last year found that a majority of Latinos favor reducing the deficit through raising taxes, or through a combination of spending cuts and taxes. In other words, Hispanics support the president’s proposed sequester solution. The Pew Center notes that most Americans are not in favor of spending cuts either. Congressional Republicans are staking out a position that is favored by a minority of voters. This is especially unwise considering that Pew reports a majority of Americans will blame the GOP for the sequester if it happens.
There are other risks associated with the sequester. It is distracting lawmakers from pressing issues like gun control and immigration reform. It represents a type of brinksmanship that is a poor way to run a government. It is solidifying the image of the Republican Party as unwilling to compromise.
The looming sequester is bad because it is a self-created crisis. It is bad because it represents yet another breakdown of our democracy. Most of all, it is bad because Latinos and other citizens will pay the price for dysfunctional Washington politics.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.