While Washington Slept
Thoughtless cuts to federal spending jeopardizes economic recovery
Last Friday, the White House and Congress failed to reach a deal to prevent drastic cuts in federal spending, indiscriminately slashing $85 billion of funding over the next seven months and $1.2 trillion over the next decade for domestic programs, research grants, and defense spending.
Washington’s incompetence will likely stymie the already lukewarm recovery, slowing growth by 0.6 percent and costing 750,000 jobs according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It squeezes already underfunded and over-stretched public programs and may prevent the delivery of baby formula to low-income mothers, turn out 125,000 residents from public housing, and deny food and formula to 775,000 at-risk women and children. Despite protests from senior Pentagon officials, funding to the Defense Department will be slashed by 7.8 percent. All this senseless cutting, purportedly designed to reduce long-term deficits, takes no action to address the two principal strains on the future budget: entitlement spending and the tax code.
Despite objections from university presidents, including Harvard’s Drew G. Faust, Congress severely cut funding to federal research agencies that provide much of the grant funding for basic research conducted at American colleges and universities that is vital for sustained, long-term economic growth. The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation will reduce both the number of grants awarded and sharply cut award amounts, forcing labs across the country to cut back on research projects and spend more time applying for already competitive grants.
Former NIH director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni warns, “The most impacted are the young, new investigator scientists who…will now abandon the field of science. There will be a generational gap created.” Despite evidence that federal support of basic research has, according to the Congressional Budget Office, “a significantly positive return,” Congress unthinkingly sequestered research funding and clogged the pipeline of innovation critically needed for continuous economic growth.
Rather than focusing on a byzantine tax code that allows Apple to pay less than 10 percent to the federal government on its tremendous profits, or the astronomical increase in entitlement spending, Congress is wrongly fixated on axing federal programs that undeniably benefit society at large, like basic research funding that drives growth or public programs that decrease poverty and inequality.
Most deplorably, the sequestration was never supposed to happen. The plan was originally designed during the equally irresponsible debt ceiling negotiations of August 2011 as a sword of Damocles so devastating that both parties could never let it continue.
But Congress let the sword swing down on America.