The failure of the United States Congress to do its job and agree to a spending plan is setting into motion a process that will hammer our hometown budgets and throw Connecticut back into recession.
The process, called "sequestration," was designed as a way to encourage a long-term fix to the federal budget. In the scope of American history, sequestration is a rare thing: a law so devastating that it was never intended to actually get implemented. Created as safeguard against congressional gridlock, it would cause across-the-board spending reductions for the entire federal government, slashing funding for everything from firefighters to aircraft carriers.
If it happens (and it is looking increasingly like it will), sequestration will cut the social safety net, cripple national security and put people out of work. It can only be averted if Congress comes to agreement on the level of taxes and spending necessary to keep the federal government solvent. Now, the nightmare has arrived and the effect on Connecticut - and New London County in particular - will be devastating.
According to Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of ctaff of the U.S. Army, sequestration cuts will be "catastrophic to the military." At the same time, our economic security would be jeopardized. Leading economists have estimated that the uncertainty surrounding federal spending would dramatically slow economic growth at a time when the United States is only beginning to climb out of the Great Recession. Hundreds of thousands of Americans would immediately be at risk of losing their jobs or taking unpaid furloughs.
Connecticut cannot afford an economic slowdown. The loss of tax revenue will mean blowing a hole into an already tenuous budget being cobbled together by the governor and the legislature. A survey by the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University predicts that Connecticut could lose tens of thousands of private sector jobs, and up to $2 billion in lost earnings. Combined with the loss of direct federal assistance to the state, sequestration would force Connecticut to reduce services, impose new taxes and cut municipal aid to every town in the state.
New London County would be particularly hard hit. We stand to lose the most through defense cuts per person than any other part of our state. Federal funds would be reduced for health, housing and employment assistance programs on which we rely due to stubbornly high unemployment rates in eastern Connecticut.
For many mothers and children in Norwich and Groton depending on assistance for food, shelter and basic health care, it means losing more of the little they have. For students from Stonington, it means cuts in student loans that could prevent them from going to college. For firefighters and teachers across the region, it might mean facing layoffs due to cuts in municipal budgets. For defense sector workers in Waterford and New London, it could mean not only a pink slip, but a reduced level of unemployment insurance and diminished job prospects. For small business owners in Montville and East Lyme, it could mean higher property taxes - and fewer customers who have less disposable income.
Sequestration is a preventable, man-made disaster for New London County, for Connecticut, and for our entire nation.
Fortunately, there is a way forward. President Obama and the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission have offered proposals that are the only plans that can solve our budget deficit. Their plans would decrease federal budget deficits, maintain core funding for essential services, and increase economic growth. Both plans are balanced: they include a mix of moderate spending cuts and the raising of revenue through the closing of corporate tax loopholes.
Americans deserve to see sanity prevail in Congress to avoid a fiscal and economic disaster. The people of New London County have more at stake than most.
Scott Bates is president of the Center for National Policy, an independent think tank based in Washington, DC. He is a resident of Stonington, where he serves as chairman of the Stonington Police Commission and vice chairman of the Board of L+M Hospital.