There is a ticking clock on the front page of the Washington Post. Surprise of all surprises - our country is staring down yet another huge budget deadline. The so called Supercomittee must piece together legislation that cuts at least $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over ten years, or a trigger will go into effect that enacts a blanket cut across most of the federal budget.
But would it really be all that bad they fail, and the big hunk of the federal government has to eat a 7.8 percent budget cut? In short, yes... it would be horrible. The trigger was designed to be painful enough to motivate the two parties to work together. But with the ineffective leadership we have in Washington, even dangerous cuts like the ones I describe below might not be enough.
The center-left think tank Third Way put out an interesting memo on the subject recently, talking about some of the bigger measurable ramifications of Supercommittee failure. The scariest out of them, in my eyes, is how it would effect federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI, ATF, US Marshalls and federal attorneys that prosecute the suspects those agents arrest. Unless the Supercommittee comes up with a plan bigger than the minimum, these agencies are slated to lose approximately 3700 agents and nearly a thousand attorneys.
Based on average arrest and conviction rates, losing that much manpower will result in over twenty-six THOUSAND less arrests, and over twelve THOUSAND convictions. Under-staffing at federal prisons would also go from bad to worse, we'd lose about 600 food safety inspectors (raising the rate of cases of food poisoning by an estimated 50,000 cases) and U.S. Border Patrol would lose about one out of four of it's agents.
Gun sales and gun stores may have to do without selling for most of the day on Saturdays and Sundays, due to necessary layoffs at the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Travelers can expect almost a thousand more flight cancellations, and over 20,000 more flight delays across the country, stranding tens of thousands and making over a million people late, at airports given required layoffs to air traffic controllers. A quarter million less bags would be screened by the TSA as well, making it even more likely that attempts like the 'Toner Cartridge Bombers" would slip through the cracks. The most absurd of the cuts would come out of the very agency that collects taxes. Losing an estimated 2,326 agents would likely result in approximately $4.5 billion in lost revenue.
Don't take this as me implying that I don't think federal law enforcement shouldn't have to take a haircut, along with almost every other federal agency, but this goes way too far. Asking agencies to take pay cuts, trim their workforce a bit, streamline and other such cost saving measures is just plain something we need to do. But cutting this many people, who are on the front line of keeping us safe day-to-day, is ridiculous.
The reality is there are few to no places the Supercommittee members could cut that wouldn't be painful to some major constituency. But these representatives are doing our country a gross injustice if they allow this trigger to be pulled, rather than comb through the budget looking for cuts that would be the least painful. Not just economically, but to the day to day safety of the American people.
Solomon Kleinsmith is a former nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.