The upcoming crisis in non-defense spending cuts

On CNN’s “State of the Nation” yesterday, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham set aside his self-preservation tack to the political right to encourage bi-partisan cooperation.  The issue was sequestration that will result in $600 billion in automatic cuts to the defense budget over the next 10 years because the Congressional supercommittee failed to reach an agreement on a deficit reduction plan. 

“Congress does dumb things.  This sequestering idea was the dumbest thing,” said Graham. 

Not only did he not try to blame the President for Congress’s failure to act, he also talked about something that is getting very little attention if the sequester budget cuts start on January 1, 2013—$500 billion in automatic budget cuts to non-defense federal spending.

Senator Graham mentioned special education and the National Cancer Institute as programs that will be negatively impacted by sequestration.  But what should really get Congress and the public’s attention is all the federal, non-defense jobs that will be impacted.

Scott Lilly, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, analyzed the non-defense sequester cuts and came to some very dire conclusions about just one federal agency, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

According to Mr. Lilly, the FAA would lose nearly 10% of its budget.  As a result, he predicted that the agency would have to furlough up to 2,000 air traffic controllers at the nation’s smaller regional airports in order to maintain regular operations at less than 100 of the airports that account for 95% of all boarding passengers. The result would be the closing of the smaller airports that have fewer than 600,000 enplanements a year.  South Carolina’s busiest airport in Columbia would be one of those. 

If this should happen, in my opinion, the impact on the nation’s economy would dwarf the economic impact of the predicted defense spending cuts getting all the attention. 

Mr. Lilly, who supports Senator Graham’s concerns about defense budget cut, told me Friday on my radio show that the public needs to be more aware of the impact of non-defense cuts.  In addition to the FAA, the public should also worry about food safety and drug approvals among other things.

“There’s a lot more to the government, just every day stuff that you count on and take for granted and don’t really think of as being the government.  But you stop the flow of federal dollars you’ll see a lot of changes in what you can do and can’t do,” said Mr. Lilly.

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