Point Austin: Government by Panic

How bad are our politics? Pretty damn bad.

Texas Head Start and Early Head Start programs would be among the casualties  of federal budget cuts.
Texas Head Start and Early Head Start programs would be among the casualties of federal budget cuts. (Courtesy of Texas Head Start Association website)

Here's how "sequester" will look in Texas.

According to White House estimates, if the March 1 budget sequestration cuts take effect (as now seems certain), Texas will lose roughly $68 million in federal funding for public schools – jeopardizing about 930 teacher and aide positions, and directly affecting 280 schools and 172,000 students.

Another $51 million will be cut from educational support for children with disabilities – dismissing 620 teachers, aides, and staff.

College students will also suffer: 4,720 will lose direct federal financial aid, and another 1,450 will lose their work-study jobs – meaning, in many cases, their ability to stay in school by the conservative path of "working their way through."

Some 4,800 Texas children will lose their Head Start or Early Head Start services – and many of their parents will be trying to keep their jobs while seeking other forms of child care.

On the environmental side, Texas will lose $8.5 million in funding for clean air and water protections; another $2.2 million will be lost for fish and wildlife protection.

Perhaps public education and the environment are not among your highest priorities; how about defense funding? Loss of $275 million in military support in Texas will translate to the loss of 52,000 civilian Depart­ment of Defense jobs; Army base operations funding will drop $233 million; the Air Force will lose another $27 million – numbers that are making the defense officials nervous about "military readiness" down the line.

It goes on from there: cuts in law enforcement and public safety; job search support and training; child care for 2,300 Texas children; 9,730 fewer child vaccinations; major cuts to public health emergency support; big hits to funds fighting domestic violence; major cuts to food aid for seniors (e.g., Meals on Wheels).

That's just Texas, of course, and there are no measurements yet for the economic ripple effect of abruptly yanking all that money out of the state economies in the sequester's seven-month duration. Overall, the national job loss estimate is roughly 700,000, perhaps a half-point in unemployment – another blow to a still very fragile national economy.

The Bright Side

Having fun yet?

I suppose any one of us can cherry-pick a few cuts that we're not too unhappy about. For example, the libertarian naturists among us can applaud cutbacks in child vaccinations – although the rest of us will worry more about the consequent spread of preventable childhood diseases, especially with simultaneous cuts to public health funding. Some folks will celebrate those defense cuts; others will raise their eyebrows over what such abrupt job losses will mean to a Texas economy heavily dependent on military spending.

I confess my spirits lifted a bit at the news that, nationally, "a few hundred" undocumented immigrants are being released from detention because Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforcement can't afford to keep them locked up. Maybe a few of them can still find work while they wait for their deportation hearings. They can join the lines forming behind the newly unemployed teachers.

If the only humor at hand seems to be of the gallows variety, that suggests something about the absurd state of our national politics. Reportedly, as I write, President Obama is meeting with GOP congressional leaders in an attempt to find a rational compromise; failing that (as is likely), perhaps we can take small comfort in knowing that the effects of the wholesale cuts will not be felt immediately, and, even before too long, "cooler heads will prevail."

Disaster by Design

Except that's hardly the political pattern we've been following in recent years. The meteoric ascendance of Harvard-trained, Texas-grown demagogue Sen. Ted Cruz mirrors at a national level what Texas voters have been watching for a decade or more, at least since disgraced Tom DeLay redrew the state congressional delegation in his own image. With districts as gerrymandered as they are, there's no electoral reward for compromise – even one as lukewarm as that offered by Lite Guv David Dewhurst – and our state politics, in a winner-take-all system, have accordingly become dominated by the hardest-right voters of the Republican primary.

The situation's a little more complicated in Congress, where the Senate has held an elastic line against the worst reactionary excesses. But when the Democratic leadership is willing to allow the GOP minority, through automatic filibusters, an effective veto over majority rule, we get our current situation: a steamroller in Texas and gridlock in D.C.

Which returns us to the absurdities of "sequestration" and the entire "austerity" program that has been so successful at crippling European economies that our leaders – Democratic and Republican alike – want to reimpose it here. We're fed relentless mainstream media headlines about "Fixing the Debt" – a billionaire-sponsored euphemism for undermining Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for the benefit of billionaire tax breaks. We're told to pay more attention to long-term, conjectured deficits instead of the job creation and economic revitalization – and even basic, necessary investments in infrastructure – that would do more than anything else to make those deficit projections collapse.

I wish I could believe we've turned a corner on such nonsense, but facing an absurdist policy like the sequester – which all sides consider so foolish that they're spending most of their time blaming each other for imposing it – there doesn't seem to be much reason for optimism. Maybe when the cuts begin to take actual effect, sufficient public pressure will force a temporary return to reason. At least until the next manufactured crisis.

Posted here is the Obama Administration summary of the estimated Texas and national effects of sequestration for 2013.

Follow @PointAustin on Twitter.

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sequestrationfederal government, sequester, Barack Obama, Ted Cruz, deficit, budget cuts

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