We Can Avoid Stupid Sequester Cuts By Ending Silly Subsidies
Washington is buzzing now with talk of sequester, the across-the-board automatic spending cuts Congress approved in 2011 on the premise that they would be so bad Congress wouldn’t actually let them occur, except it’s about to. Instead of allowing the automatic cuts to popular services that support tens of thousands of jobs and improve Americans’ lives, Congress should stop wasting taxpayers’ money. And the best way to do so is by ending the $8 billion in subsidies oil companies rake in every year that only pad their billions in profits and pollute our air.
With the sequester scheduled to kick in within two weeks, Congress should stop these taxpayer-paid handouts to industries that harm public health and the environment and instead start moving forward to protect services that protect our health and our environment.
Earlier this week, President Obama discussed how the automatic cuts would affect our country, saying, ”These cuts are not smart... They will hurt our economy and add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls.” This echoes newly released memos from federal agencies that outline just how devastating these cuts will be. It is becoming clearer every day that these cuts would only serve to harm our economy that’s still in recovery and hurt everyday Americans.
For example, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these cuts will reduce air pollution monitoring, scale back Superfund cleanups and reduce funding clean water and drinking water projects. The cuts will also cause a shortage of employees available to certify that new cars and trucks meet federal emissions standards, which could delay the production and sale of new vehicles causing unnecessary layoffs in the automobile industry.
The Department of Interior makes similar statements on how these cuts will affect their basic responsibilities. Secretary Salazar points out that the public’s access to parks and refuges, which support over 400,000 jobs and contribute $48 billion to local economies, will be severely reduced. The Department of Interior’s comments were clear:
"We expect that a cut of this magnitude. . . will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operations, shortening of seasons and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources and government assets."
Additionally, the Department will have to furlough or lay off employees who process oil and gas leasing, delaying hundreds of projects– or worse, approving permits without the requisite review.
These effects are just a small part of what the sequester will do, but they are illustrative of why focusing solely on cuts to government programs will have harmful and unplanned side-effects.
Closing tax loopholes and subsidies to industries like the oil industry, on the other hand, would have positive side effects for Americans and that is why they are worth Congress’s attention. As we have discussed before, these subsidies don’t lower consumer prices and don’t encourage development. But they do waste taxpayers’ dollars. And they do signal that the government is willing to support polluters despite the nearly $50 billion in annual health costs their pollution creates.
Some in Congress understand that these wasteful polluter subsidies don’t make sense. Just last week, the House Budget Committee Democrats released a plan to address the sequester that included closing some of the loopholes currently subsidizing oil companies. Bills have been introduced by Rep. Blumenauer, Rep. Markey, Sen. Menendez, Sen. Levin, and Sen. Whitehouse to close these loopholes for good. Even President Obama said this week, "I’m willing to save hundreds of billions of dollars by enacting comprehensive tax reform that gets rid of tax loopholes."
Sadly, it seems that most of these plans don’t have a chance of passing before the
sequester hits. Congress should put aside their blame-game talking points and support a balanced approach, not one that ignores our critical needs for the environment, education, and infrastructure. Taking advantage of common sense solutions such as closing $8 billion in loopholes for oil companies would benefit taxpayers and their health and well-being.
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