I recently joined parents and local officials to tour a Billerica, Mass., Head Start classroom slated to close this September. Community Teamwork Inc. has served local families for 20 years, but now, because of the mandatory spending cuts required by the sequester, it is being forced to close three classrooms and leave 85 families without the preschool learning and preparation on which they rely. This is deeply unfortunate for the impacted children and their parents, and it is sadly reflective of what's happening across the country, where the sequester is expected to leave thousands of children without access to Head Start care.
With just this one program, the result is 85 children who will be less prepared for success in school as well as a missed opportunity to decrease special-education expenses in that school system. The result is at least seven jobs lost. The result is parents who — if they work — will be faced with a dilemma of how to find supervision for those affected children. Some of those working parents may have to stay home with their child and forgo needed income. The result is a possible increase in those who depend on public assistance for nutrition, housing or heat.
And it doesn't end with Head Start. The sequester will also result in deep cuts to health research, 4 million fewer meals being served to seniors through meals-on-wheels, an increase in Social Security backlog by nearly 100,000 cases, furloughs to the defense and security personnel, cuts to Violence Against Women grants and small business lending initiatives, and more. Our economic growth is being held back by the sequester, according to the Federal Reserve. The Congressional Budget Office and independent economists are projecting that sequestration will cost 750,000 jobs and lead to a 0.6 percent reduction in growth in 2013.
I opposed the legislation that required the sequester and believed then — and still do — that it's legislative malpractice. While I and others were prepared to compromise to reach fiscal stability, others, primarily House Republicans, took pride in refusing to compromise.
One would think that Congress could and should find a way to responsibly replace these arbitrary and unreasonable, across-the-board cuts. I support a compromise that includes targeted spending cuts in the long-term combined with ending unnecessary and wasteful subsidies and loopholes, and I continue to be receptive to other proposals.
House Republicans have supported piecemeal sequester fixes that prevented furloughs for food inspectors and air traffic controllers, but they have not put forward any constructive solutions to completely end the sequester or deal comprehensively with the issue of attaining fiscal stability while investing in economic growth for job creation. In fact, they have refused to officially negotiate a final Fiscal Year 2014 budget with the Senate that might replace or mitigate the sequester, despite the fact that the Senate passed its budget months ago. This refusal to negotiate appears to signal that Republicans accept the sequester's drastic consequences as policy.
The so-called "Ryan Budget" put forward by the House Republican Majority cuts more deeply and broadly than does sequestration, and it slashes investments needed to support jobs and make our nation competitive with others. Numerous responsible and credible economists from across the political spectrum are critical of their shortsighted focus on austerity over growth. Yet, for the supporters of the "Ryan Budget," ideology continues to trump reality.
Mindless cuts are hurting our economy, increasing financial burdens on families, and forcing the federal government to make false choices among essential services. We cannot afford 10 years of job losses and stunted economic growth. Congress can and must replace these irresponsible cuts with a balanced plan that makes strategic, short-term investments and reduces long-term deficit and debt.
Democratic U.S. Rep. John Tierney represents the 6th District of Massachusetts in Congress.