Campbell: Where’s the sequestration beef?

Mar. 09, 2013 @ 11:49 AM

Remember the TV ad with the little old lady holding up a burger and asking, “Where’s the Beef?”

Many now are asking, “Where’s the Sequestration Beef?”

It matters not where the idea came from, but during the debt-ceiling impasse of 2011 our leaders created what they considered a “poison pill” that would force sensible leaders to resolve our country’s fiscal problems. It required $ 1 trillion in automatic federal budget cuts over a nine-year period, half of which would come from defense spending, if no agreement could be reached by March 1 of this year. The term for these automatic cuts is sequestration.

Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain came to North Carolina last summer as part of a national barnstorming tour, warning us of the “doomsday” we would face if sequestration took effect. President Obama has recently sung the same tune. Granted, we haven’t felt the full effects from sequestration yet, but most of us are coming to realize this “Chicken Little, sky is falling” rhetoric is largely politics.

We are not naïve and don’t want to trivialize the impact. North Carolinians are going to feel some effects.  Economists estimate that 4.5 percent of our $425 billion gross state product comes as a result of federal spending. With the large military presence in Fayetteville, Jacksonville, Goldsboro, Havelock and Elizabeth City there are large numbers of military and civilian paychecks; some in the civilian ranks are likely to experience furloughs or job cuts, hurting them and our state.

There is good news and bad news in the fact that we don’t have many military contractors, like weapons or aircraft manufacturers, in our state, so cuts there won’t be devastating. Federal research grants to universities and other education funding will see cuts, as will Medicare reimbursements to doctors and hospitals be cut two percent. We will be affected. 

During this Great Recession many of us have had to cut our family spending and most acknowledge the imbalance in federal spending and debt vis-à-vis our revenues. Erskine Bowles, co-chair of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, reports we spend more on defense than the next 20 nations in the world combined, an amount that needs to be trimmed. And since about two-thirds of federal spending consists of entitlements like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security we acknowledge reforms are needed in these areas.

But we hope our leaders in Washington would be willing to prioritize and save from severe cuts government functions like TSA security, air traffic controllers, meat inspectors and other vital services. Surely those interested in the common good can find solutions. Unfortunately, partisan politics trumps common sense in today’s Washington, a place once described as 26 square miles surrounded by reality.

We admired the television interview with a bar owner in Fayetteville, who admitted sequestration would affect his business, quickly adding he had endured troop deployments that took away half the soldiers from his town at one time and he would somehow survive sequestration. 

We live in a time when politicians try to achieve agendas through fear tactics and so far it appears that might be true with sequestration. There will be an impact to North Carolina but we have survived poor governance, natural disasters, crop failures, wars and any number of other problems and we can survive sequestration.

Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina state treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, airing Sundays at 6:30 a.m. on WRAL-TV and at 8:30 a.m. on WRAZ-TV FOX50.  Contact him at www.ncspin.com.