In Washington, words that you hear almost nowhere else get thrown around as if everyone understands what they mean: reconciliation, appropriations, reauthorization, and now sequestration. Some bit of previously obscure legal language becomes a buzzword for a few months. The word sequestration has a somewhat sinister tone, so it's easy for politicians to use it to scare the American public.
What is sequestration? It is the automatic budgets cuts that will be made to the federal government starting March 1. These cuts do not fall across all programs. They fall heavily on defense and domestic programs, while Medicare, Social Security, and veterans benefits are untouched. Most federal agencies will have a portion of their budget cut, which may lead to furloughs or lay offs for contract and part-time workers.
I do not want to downplay the seriousness of sequestration, but it shouldn't be used to undermine the seriousness of our budget situation either. At the end of the day, the federal budget isn't all that different than the family budget.
Many American families borrow money when faced with an economic challenge. Government can and should borrow when we face severe challenges. On the other hand, families typically cut unneeded spending during times when they are borrowing heavily. Money spent on cable TV, vacations and new clothes is reduced to pay for necessities like the mortgage and gasoline.
Our government is very good at borrowing money during economic crises, but very bad at trimming waste. A typical family is not extended an unlimited line of credit, and neither is our government. We remain the largest and most important economy in the world. China and other nations are happy to lend us money to help keep our economic engine going, but there is a limit to this largesse.
The sequestration cuts total $85 billion. That is a lot of money, but it only represents 2.3 percent of what will be spent this year. In fact, because many programs that automatically increase spending are untouched by sequestration, the federal government will probably still spend more money this year than last year.
Sequestration is far from the best way to control the federal budget. It is a blunt instrument. Much wasteful federal spending will go untouched, even as employees are furloughed or laid off. It doesn't need to be this way.
Twice in the past year, House Republicans passed legislation to replace the sequestration cuts with more sensible reductions and reforms. First, we should stop fraudulent and wasteful payments from the government. In 2011 alone, there were $115 billion in improper payments that we know of. The Inspector General for Social Security has recommended changes that could save that program $7.7 billion.
Next week, I will be chairing a hearing of the Health Subcommittee looking into innovative solutions to fight waste in Medicare and Medicaid programs. We can't balance the federal budget just by eliminating waste, but we can place programs on a more solid foundation and keep criminals from profiting off American taxpayers.
House Republicans' sequestration replacement legislation also called for the elimination of unproven programs created under Obamacare. Elimination of the Public Health Slush Fund would save $10 billion. Last Congress, I sponsored stand alone legislation that would end this program.
The President has been loud in calling for replacing the sequestration cuts, but so far he hasn't put his plan on paper. His Democrat allies control the Senate, but no legislation has been considered in that chamber. Right now, the President's budget is overdue by nearly three weeks.
President Obama is like an art critic who has never taken up a brush. For the past two years, the House has passed budgets that balance in the long-term. This year, we will put forward a plan than balances within a decade. The President has never put forward a budget that balances at any time in the future.
I am very concerned about the effect sequestration cuts could have on important government services and our ability to defend the nation. It is not the best way to get our budget under control, but if we can't even make cuts that will stabilize federal spending, what hope do we have of ever getting our massive deficits under control?