Sequester: When budget cuts are a matter of life and death

US aircraft carriers are pictured in port at at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia With a naval facility and Nato base, the defence industry is key to Virginia's economy

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Mark Stets warns the cuts around the corner are a matter of life and death.

Residents of Virginia Beach, Virginia, are used to a sense of mortality - it has the highest concentration of serving and retired military in the US.

During a packed public meeting at a hotel ballroom in this coastal resort, many warned of the damage from the automatic cuts to local businesses, to their families and to America's prestige.

But retired naval Chief Petty Officer Stets says much more is at stake. He speaks with quiet assurance, but you can tell his voice is one degree away from cracking. No wonder.

He starts his question to the lawmakers on the platform with the simple statement that his son, a soldier, was killed in Pakistan in 2010.

"My worry is there is another family that is going to suffer the loss that I did because their son didn't have the proper training, the proper armament, the proper munitions to do his job," he later tells me.

"Sequestration is going to take 10% off our military budget and, as I look at it, out of a group of 10 soldiers, one doesn't have a helmet, one doesn't have body armour, one doesn't have a radio. Each man in that platoon doesn't have something to do his job."

'Devastating cuts'

I have no idea if he is right or wrong. The Pentagon has warned automatic cuts of 10% would be "devastating", without spelling out what would happen. But there are already plans for defence workers to take one day off a week without pay.

Part of the problem with the automatic cuts, known by the ugly term "the sequester" is that no-one can say exactly what they would mean in practice, even though they are only days away.

The White House has set out the threatened impact on Virginia, as well as the other 49 states, ahead of President Barack Obama's visit to a Virginia shipyard.

Mr Obama is out campaigning against the cuts, warning that Congress must avoid wounding the recovery.

We are talking here about the can that was kicked down the road at New Year, when Congress did a deal to avoid automatic tax increases.

But they put off automatic spending cuts for two months. That deadline is almost up. The whole idea was meant to concentrate minds.

'Hang that name'

Here is the theory: Democrats would hate the savaging of social programmes; Republicans would loathe the harsh reductions of military spending. So they would be forced to come together and find more sensible ways to reduce public spending.

Cunning, eh? Only it has not worked. That is partly because some Republicans think bad cuts are better than no cuts at all.

There is a sense of complacency on Capitol Hill that is totally lacking in Virginia Beach.

Most people in Washington think Friday's deadline will come and go, but a deal will be done in a week or two.

CPO Stets says that is unacceptable.

"To me the next soldier that dies, if sequestration goes into effect, lies on every member of Congress - and the president."

"There is no way they'll get past me. I will hang that name on them."

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  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    @244. SilverTusk – “There’s a long way to go, but it’s a start.”

    I don’t mind how long the journey is, and I suspect there will be twists and turns long the way, just so long as the destination is in the opposite direction the Greeks took!

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    @243.centromere – “Where do you stand on the issue?”

    Like most people, I suspect; disappointed that they were not up to the challenge of specific cuts, but took the “across the board” easy way out.

    Still, it’s a start. There’s a long way to go, but it’s a start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    @242.SilverTusk – “When you are willing to discuss the topic, sequestration, we might have a discussion.”

    Where do you stand on the issue?

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    @241 - All for All - "Not to admit implicit choice"

    You know what the topic is - sequestration - and you refuse to discuss it. When you are willing to discuss the topic, sequestration, we might have a discussion. Until you return to the topic, there is little purpose in engaging with you.

    Good luck!

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    centromere @239
    "a long-winded way"
    Not to admit implicit choice

    The money 'you' want - that the USA needs - to pay down external debt, is in the hands of your 'wealth concentrators', almost laughably 'your leaders'

    The money 'you' - as middle & poor America - owe to the 1%, is down to long compounded mix of greed & duress, proportions varying but whole morass fraudulent

    Equality to be offered

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    228. Chryses
    readwriteandblue (211),

    You are mistaken. The Coast Guard operates under the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of the Navy.

    My apologies
    You are correct on that
    It Moved to Dept Homeland Security 11 years ago.
    I am more than a little behind the times on that

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    @236 - All for All – “Back to base: FIRST question between democratic equality & species of dictatorship …”

    Which is a long-winded way of saying you are satisfied with the irresponsible broken logic of the status quo of impoverishing future generations of Americans for money spent on this one.

    More than 40% of the Federal budget is financed through debt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    Get the sense that american politicians have gone insane? Their's is a pathologic view of the world that is dangerous both in domestic and foreign policies. Republicans want a return to 19th century robber baron days when workers had no rights even the incorporation into children's books that poor people are useless parasites who deserve no government help! It's hate filled capitalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Pmk: After all what does Russia have to export besides oil&gas?


    Whoever has the most clean water will be the leading Superpower in the future

    Great Lakes have lost over 23 feet in the last several years+
    it has nothing to do w/ climate change

    It has to do w/ legally exporting water in bottles to foreign countries such as China

    USA doesn't get a dime for this

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    centromere @234
    'yet to support budget cuts'

    Back to base: FIRST question between democratic equality & species of dictatorship (inequality, fear & greed, corruption, hypocrisy)

    IF we choose Equal Partnership, thinking-it through, we would agree income equality, land held by rent, unused income to saving to an agreed maximum

    Sums set as affordable, for managed deficit then steady debt pay-down

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Since they can’t create healthy budget, & after cliff-deal, I see no reason to believe congr is capable of prioritizing cuts. Still, take Obama up on his proposal-let axe fall. Hopefully more fat will get cut off than left. Doubt it. Obama already won re-election. Fewer re-elections in 2014. I want to see how far Obama’s loyalists go. Also, they still could reach another weak or blind deal....

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    @233 - All for All

    I have noticed that while you criticize the way Federal money is spent ("mis-allocation", "corruption", etc.), you have yet to express support for budget cuts.

    Why is that? Why do you accept the status quo of 41% more debt for Federal spending?

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    centrom @232
    "off topic"?
    Fraud quantification?

    Yet some say 'inefficiency', even mis-allocation, in Federal spend

    Some say 'tax injustice', clever avoidance, even evasion

    Still more, 99%, see corruption from primary income injustice

    And paralysis of Congress, some say, deserves address?

    Start with 'democratic deficit', wilful misinterpretation of inalienable rights - of a free EQUAL people?

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    All for All (231),

    “… No response on "largesse" @222, the 'mis-investment transfer' of $billions, to the created-rich from the created-poor, in vain hope of 'democratic outcome'? …”

    Correct, as that opinion is off topic and irrelevant to the issue of the sequestration budget cuts.

    Or are you proposing that the wealth transfer payments be cut from the budget?

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    "personal problem"
    And social problem

    Like injustice, conflict of interest, folly-against-better-judgement, incentivised future-trashing

    No response on "largesse" @222, the 'mis-investment transfer' of $billions, to the created-rich from the created-poor, in vain hope of 'democratic outcome'?

    Compared to rewards in Equal Partnership, think of transfer magnitude AND opportunity costs

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    MagicKirin (226),

    “… How can anyone object to that?”

    Those who are the recipients of the Federal largess that is now imperiled will complain no matter what proposals are advanced. Their opinions are influenced by a conflict of interest. That > 40% of Federal spending is financed by increased debt is a national problem. Loss of benefits is a personal problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    MK @226
    "prioritise cuts"
    "how can anyone object"?

    But many will, to clean air, clean water, clear head, streets clear of dope & booze pedlars, shared freedom in conscience, freedom for rational trust in each other's motivation, direction of 'higher affairs' by genuine 'representatives', freedom - of agents, managers, workers & organisers - from crippling corrupting material conflicts of interest

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    readwriteandblue (211),

    “… Lets take it from Dept of Transport (the Coast Guard comes under them) …”

    You are mistaken. The Coast Guard operates under the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of the Navy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    To Mars @224
    "right to strike"
    And breath-hold
    Hardly democracy
    'Rights' of toddlers

    That said, 'protests' & 'hunger strikes' sometimes help 'authorities' toward sense, conceding less repression, wider franchise, universal education to base-level (sneaking-in 'curriculum' obedience)

    It would help to now WHAT to protest ABOUT: infinity of woes, or their cause?

    We ALL need Equal Partnership

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    House should pass a bill which allow fedewral dept to priortize cuts.

    That way pain can be minimized.

    aka get rid of diversity training at the Dept of Agriculture, get rid of the prok that is in many budget.

    A bipartsian problem

    How can anyone object to that?


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