With the March 2013 sequestration, federal expenses are reduced through automatic, across-the-board spending cuts.
The origin of sequestration goes back to August 2, 2011, when U.S. Congress was within hours of letting the government default on its $14.3 trillion debt. At the last moment, lawmakers passed a “compromise” bill that raised the debt ceiling, against cuts in federal spending by at least $2.2 trillion over the next decade.
The “compromise” bill used the threat of sequestration to encourage Congress to find sensible solutions on achieving the first tranche of the mandated deficit reduction of $1.2 trillion, by the end of 2012. It was also agreed that if lawmakers failed to do so, the law would trigger automatic, across-the-board, budget cuts to achieve the same level of expense reduction, which is in fact what has happened, since.
That the nation needs to substantially reduce the deficit over time is undeniable. No-one can continue to borrow indefinitely. Timing and manner of reduction, however, are a matter of choice. After all, a deficit or a surplus are simply the result of how much income is received and how many expenses are incurred, and these are decided by Congress. Choices by Congress, as all other choices, can either be good choices or bad choices; in fact, they are moral choices.
Thus, taxation should proportionally reflect the ability of each individual, family, corporation to contribute to the common good; business enterprises should accept responsibility for improving the environment that they impact and the infrastructure that they extensively use.
Spending cuts should not hurt economic growth, nor increase poverty, nor affect the structure of those programs that have traditionally helped the weakest in our society (Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security). Public money should not be wasted to favor one industry or another, unless there is an overwhelming social purpose for doing so. Defense spending, which absorbs a disproportionate part of the federal budget, should be questioned as to their size and real necessity.
The U.S. Catholic Bishops have multiple times expressed their concern about federal budget choices and have joined in the “Circle of Protection”, an ecumenical initiative to protect those who are poor and vulnerable at home and abroad, during the ongoing budget process, building a common voice within the Christian community on the moral principle that the poor have priority. Working together with the larger Church, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul issued through Voice of the Poor action alerts to the same effect – for the most recent, see:
CIRCLE OF PROTECTION KEY PRINCIPLES:
2. Funding focused on reducing poverty should not be cut. It should be made as effective as possible, but not cut.
3. We urge our leaders to protect and improve poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance to promote a better, safer world.
4. National leaders must review and consider tax revenues, military spending, and entitlements in the search for ways to share sacrifice and cut deficits.
5. A fundamental task is to create jobs and spur economic growth. Decent jobs at decent wages are the best path out of poverty, and restoring growth is a powerful way to reduce deficits.
6. The budget debate has a central moral dimension. Christians are asking how we protect “the least of these.” “What would Jesus cut?” “How do we share sacrifice?” As believers, we turn to God with prayer and fasting, to ask for guidance as our nation makes decisions about our priorities as a people.
7. God continues to shower our nation and the world with blessings. As Christians, we are rooted in the love of God in Jesus Christ. Our task is to share these blessings with love and justice and with a special priority for those who are poor.
8. Budgets are moral documents, and how we reduce future deficits are historic and defining moral choices. As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times, our broken economy, and our wounded world. It is the vocation and obligation of the church to speak and act on behalf of those Jesus called “the least of these.” This is our calling and we will strive to be faithful in carrying out this mission.