When the budget ax falls

“Sequestration” packs an ominous right hook. (Don’t we sequester patients with chicken pox and SARS?) The word evokes fear of the unimaginable. Like fallout shelters from the Cold War era, sequestration is a foreboding backdrop and symbol of a just-can’t-be future.

Welcome, then, to the just-can’t-be.

If the U.S. Congress doesn’t embrace a plan to pare the national debt by $1.2 trillion, the Budget Control Act mandates across-the-board cuts in January, 2013. It’s a form of compelled prudence. Make the cuts Congress or, like an arbiter in a civil suit, we’ll make the cuts for you. D.C. observers are incredulous that policymakers would actually risk defanging core federal programs, including the nation’s massive defense budget.

Skeptics might look to the imbroglio of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “Super Committee”) as a counterpoint. Co-chaired by Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the Super Committee was unable to hammer out a deficit compromise. This rebuff of fiscal math — committee members could simply have copied the sober prescriptions of the Simpson-Bowles Commission — is a reminder that lawmakers are OK dangling from the fiscal cliff.

For Northwesterners, the pinch could come in the form of a sandbagged tanker deal. As The Herald’s Michelle Dunlop reported last week, “After a prolonged battle to win a $35 billion deal supplying the U.S. Air Force with tankers, Boeing could see its tanker program axed by the government as part of spending cuts that will take place if Congress doesn’t act on a new budget before the year’s end.”

For guardians of Naval Station Everett and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, the cloud of a revived Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) looms, although sequestration’s impact will be most severely felt by secondary businesses. Smaller aerospace sub-contractors and business services dependent on Boeing will all get jammed. And non-defense discretionary spending? Here it gets ugly.

A U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee report breaks it down, state-by-state. In Washington, nearly 1,500 fewer children will be served by Head Start. A whack to the Maternal and Child Health Block grant means that 76,887 fewer women, families and children will receive services. Washington’s “Improving Teacher Quality” grant will shrink from $30 million to $3 million, approximately. 3,437 fewer teachers will receive professional-development training. The Dickensian list goes on, touching nearly every sector of society. Veterans Employment and Training? 1,727 fewer veterans served (adding insult to injury during the country’s demobilization from Iraq and Afghanistan.)

No one disputes that budget cuts will be draconian. Reductions need to be strategic, however. Now is the time to contact members of the Washington Congressional delegation and tell them to support a budget compromise — before we nose-dive off that fiscal cliff.