Since the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration started in 2013, the budget deficit has gotten smaller. But it’s still hundreds of billions of dollars. Sequestration just nibbled at it.
“Sequestration has been saving us between $60 [billion] and $90 billion per year,” says Marc Goldwein, senior policy director of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “Now, that’s not enough to solve our debt problems. But it’s not nothing, either.”
Congress eased some of sequestration’s sting during the past two budget years. But it still bit hard enough for people like Emily Holubowich of the Coalition for Health Funding to notice. Under sequestration, she says, Congress sacrificed planning for medical emergencies like Ebola.
“They look and say, 'Well, where can we cut?' We don’t need to invest in planning and preparedness. And it’s when you let your guard down that we see something else happen, like Ebola,” she says.
At the Pentagon, sequestration forced cuts in training. It meant deferred maintenance, and it limited pay increases. Jim Savage, who teaches politics and public policy at the University of Virginia, doesn’t think much of sequestration.
“When you rely upon across-the-board measures, it’s usually the sign of weak management," he says. "It’s also another way of sort of avoiding political accountability – to make the hard choices.”
But, Savage says, sequestration will force some hard choices on Congress this year. Lawmakers have already cut the low-hanging fruit. There aren’t many spending cuts left that everyone can agree on. And remember, sequestration is scheduled to last until 2021.