Sequester causing cuts that hurt

April 9, 2013 

The automatic budget cuts triggered by the stalemate in Washington went across the board – including even national defense. For most people, the rhetoric that flew about during the budget debate was just a collection of words. Except that it wasn’t.

The sequestration might have started with small cuts. Government agencies and contractors can make due for a few weeks. But budgets are getting squeezed, and the pain is becoming apparent.

In the Triangle, the automatic cuts are making it hard to provide Medicare patients with their chemotherapy treatments. In a few places, patients have been turned away.

Thankfully, as The News & Observer reported last week, hospitals and others who provide such treatments are trying to keep them going. This is compassion. It is good sense. It should be the only alternative.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration was planning to close air traffic control towers at some regional airports. The argument went: Well, it’s true those airports won’t be quite as safe, but everything is likely to be all right. That logic apparently didn’t hold with an outraged public. The FAA backed away from that decision.

Tea party Republicans who’d like to strip government to the bare bones may cheer cuts prompted by a lack of agreement, but they’re about the only happy ones. Conservatives don’t like the defense cuts, and moderates deplore the cutbacks that will come in social programs.

The lesson here is that the American people would do themselves and the country a favor to pay attention to federal budget matters instead of ignoring them until directly affected. There have been human consequences from these reductions, and the effects will get broader and do more lasting damage. Federal workers, thousands of them, will lose their jobs, and the public will lose their service.

Cutting back on air traffic controllers so the skies will be more dangerous for air travelers? Telling Medicare patients they’ll have to pass up life-preserving treatment because, you see, there is this thing called sequestration, so too bad?

And the problem is, if Congress and President Obama continue to hold fast and refuse to compromise, the temporary preservation of these services may indeed be short-lived.

Hospitals, for example, have other sources of revenue, so those that want to do the right thing will cover the chemotherapy treatments. But those clinics that specialize in oncology say they’re up against it, with some saying they will not have any choice but to curtail coverage.

Human beings are at the mercy of stubborn politics on Capitol Hill. And while both sides share responsibility, Republicans deserve a larger share of the blame pie. They want to hold fast against anything that might be interpreted as a tax increase, particularly a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans. Instead, they say, let’s cut Medicare and Social Security, the entitlement programs millions and millions of Americans depend upon and have rightly earned. That line is growing weak, and GOP leaders who were paying the least bit of attention in the last election should have gotten that message by now.

President Obama will propose his budget today. It’s expected to cut Medicare and Social Security and to ask for less tax revenue than he has previously sought. That will anger liberals and yet not be enough for tea party followers. And the impasse will go on.

Congress and the president must come to some long-term budget agreements, for the economic stability of the country as well as the comfort of Americans who rightly expect their representatives to serve them efficiently and humanely and not to throw them into a tailspin every time a budget deadline approaches.

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