The massive federal budget cuts that will start Friday as part of the "sequester" will damage our economic recovery and mean fewer services here in Southern Arizona. Strip away the conservative economic theories and party-line rhetoric and that's the reality we're facing.
We didn't get here by accident. The sequester was created in 2011 by the Budget Control Act, which I voted against. Speaker of the House John Boehner told reporters back then: "I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I'm pretty happy." Now he's selling this as a catastrophe forced by President Obama on an unwilling Republican majority.
Austerity fans tell you it's about being responsible and trimming the fat. They leave out the fact that the sequester means we'll see fewer police, firefighters, nurses, teachers, food inspectors, customs agents and other pillars of our community on the job. Many of the people turned out on the street by the sequester won't go back to those jobs any time soon.
Southern Arizona is a good microcosm of what's about to happen all over the country. Leaders at Mariposa Community Health Center in Nogales estimate that the sequester will cost them $150,000 this year. In this case, "sequestration" is Washington-speak for less federal funding for doctor and dental visits for uninsured Southern Arizonans.
It's also Washington-speak for job losses and unpaid furloughs at every federal agency. Border security will be affected by immediate cuts to Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, and Drug Enforcement Agency budgets. The Department of Agriculture will lose money that pays for produce inspections and customs at our already severely understaffed ports of entry. The Forest Service and Social Security Administration will lose crucial funding, meaning fewer services, longer waiting times and potentially shorter hours. The Department of Education will have to make needlessly painful choices about which children will receive less support.
These cuts will mean less nutritional support for low-income families. They will mean less affordable management of chronic pain and disease. They will mean a smaller, weaker Head Start program and skimpier nutritional assistance from the Women, Infants and Children program.
This is the human cost of conservatives' unchecked demands for across-the-board, no-questions-asked budget cuts. There is no flexibility. Nearly everyone will be affected.
This could be avoided at any time if the House Republican majority - which passed the Budget Control Act - agreed to cancel the sequester. The House and Senate could pass a very short bill wiping it out and the whole thing would go away.
That's not going to happen, for reasons that have much more to do with Republican Party politics than the public good. Conservatives have decided, as they did during the government shutdowns of the 1990s, that now is the time to make the party base happy at everyone else's expense. They wrap it up in talk about principle and the future of the country, but the reality is that hundreds of thousands of people are about to be fired or furloughed because Republicans won't vote for a penny in tax increases for millionaires.
What's my alternative? Along with my Congressional Progressive Caucus colleagues, I introduced a bill called the Balancing Act earlier this month that makes real progress and creates jobs. It cancels many of the sequester cuts and raises new revenue by closing tax loopholes for wealthy individuals and corporations. It keeps certain military spending cuts in place and limits excessive payments to Pentagon contractors. I encourage you to read the details; it's a good plan.
This obsession with cutting everything in sight has already taken a major toll on our economy, and the sequester will make things worse. You have to wonder what the point is of this self-inflicted economic pain. I'm proud I voted against it, and I'm proud to have offered a workable alternative. I wish my conservative colleagues could say the same.
U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva represents Arizona's District 7.