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July 25, 2012

Because congressional leaders failed to reach a bipartisan compromise on deficit reduction, the legislative equivalent of a deficit-reducing guillotine now hangs by a tripwire over federal spending. If the guillotine falls on January 2, 2013, every “discretionary” federal program - or 40% of federal spending - will face cuts of 8 percent or more.

To date, the media (and most politicians) have focused on the possible defense industry job losses that could result. High powered dignitaries are parading through the streets of Washington preaching defense job losses and stories of doom and gloom for defense contractors. Little has been written about the impact such cuts would have on non-defense areas of the budget. 

Today, Senator Tom Harkin released a new report, Under Threat - Sequestration’s Impact on Nondefense Jobs and Services. Long a proponent of prevention, Senator Harkin’s report takes a look at what would happen in other areas of federal spending if these cuts take place. The numbers are troubling. Here are just a few:

  • Head start would serve 96,179 fewer low-income children
  • 17 million fewer meals would be served to senior citizens in need 
  • 5 million fewer families would receive a long list of services under the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant
  • More than 12,000 people would lose access to life saving AIDS medications - which, incidentally, were recently shown to also reduce transmission rates
  • Over 211,958 children would lose access to measles, mumps and hep-B vaccines
  • Preparedness and response efforts would be further denigrated - impacting every states’ ability to respond to natural disasters, outbreaks or 
  • The National Institutes of Health would support 700 fewer research grants, meaning fewer discoveries for new medical treatments and cures 
  • Reduced funding for the inspection of transplant and ambulatory surgical centers would equal an inspection rate of one visit every 30 years, rather than the current rate of one visit every 3 to 4 years. 
  • 112,000 fewer domestic violence victims would receive call center services, counseling and/or temporary shelter services
  • 33,816 fewer women would be screened for breast and cervical cancer

Most agree that nothing will happen before November, but if Congress sits on its hands for the few legislative days between the November elections and the fall of the guillotine  in January, social service and health programs will take a devastating hit. 

One odd fact about guillotines - it seems the head is about 8% of the entire mass of the body. And cutting off your brain as a means to lose weight is about as smart as using a 8% sequester to fix a deficit. Congress must find a meaningful compromise so these grim scenarios don’t come to pass.