EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 18, 2013

Column: Bipartisanship needed to avert automatic cuts, reduce the deficit

Annie Kuster
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Annie Kuster

It’s a simple statement of fact that our government needs to cut spending and reduce the deficit. The question is how, not if. But exactly how we reduce the deficit has important consequences — for the future of middle class families, the health of our economy, and the security of our country.

In a matter of weeks, a series of damaging, across-the-board spending cuts are scheduled to take effect. These automatic cuts — known in Washington as “the sequester” — were never meant to be implemented. In fact, they were designed to be so painful that just the prospect of implementing them would spur both parties to pass a more balanced plan to reduce the deficit and put our nation on a sustainable fiscal course.

Unfortunately, Congress has so far failed to produce such a deal. With a March 1 deadline looming, we now face the very real possibility that partisan gridlock and inaction will trigger a cascade of indiscriminate cuts that will hurt New Hampshire families, undermine economic growth and job creation, and threaten our national security.

The sequester would cut nearly $1 trillion from domestic programs and our national defense. With budget reductions that deep, an estimated 70,000 children would lose access to Head Start. Small business loan guarantees would be cut by $540 million. Thousands of researchers working on the frontlines of innovation could lose their jobs, stalling critical research and ceding the technological advantage to our competitors across the globe.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that sequestration would cut economic growth in half in 2013 and threaten 1.4 million jobs. A recent study from George Mason University projected that almost half of all job losses stemming from sequestration would come from small businesses, the engine of growth and job creation in our economy.

That same study put the potential job losses here in New Hampshire at over 6,300. At a time when high-tech manufacturers need a highly-skilled workforce, our state would lose well over 100 education jobs and more than 1,000 students would be dropped from career and technical education programs. Cuts to defense spending would also compromise the strength of our military and threaten jobs at the Pease Air National Guard Base, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and defense suppliers throughout New Hampshire.

Let’s be perfectly clear: we need to cut spending and get our fiscal house in order. But any approach to deficit reduction that fails to distinguish between wasteful spending we can’t afford to keep and critical investments we can’t afford to cut will undermine our economy and security.

Fortunately, there’s a better way forward. Rather than blindly slicing across the board, both parties can work together on a balanced, long-term plan that will not only avoid the sequester, but also responsibly reduce the deficit, spur job creation, and protect investments in the middle class.

The good news: Congress has already made significant progress on that kind of balanced approach. In recent years, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to reduce the deficit by over $1.5 trillion, and we can and should do more to find additional savings.

We should start by cutting wasteful subsidies to large agri-businesses and Big Oil companies making billions in profits. We should make sensible reforms that will reduce the cost of health care, let Medicare negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prescription drug prices, and aggressively root out the billions of dollars in waste, fraud, and abuse that plague our healthcare system. We should close loopholes that favor special interests and needlessly complicate the tax code. These reforms — and many others — should be part of a balanced deal to reduce the deficit, grow the economy, and move us beyond the partisan bickering.

As we work toward a long-term deal, we have to remember that this isn’t a problem one party can solve without the other. The fact is, governing is a shared responsibility. A balanced, bipartisan approach to reducing the deficit isn’t just the right way forward — it’s the only way forward. Now is the time for Congress to step up and do its job.

This is a problem that’s entirely within our power to solve. There is no reason we can’t come together to pass a balanced, bipartisan deal that will avoid the sequester and put our nation on a sustainable fiscal path. That’s what the American people want, it’s what our economy needs, and it’s what our country deserves.

Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-Hopkinton, represents New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District.