In reflecting on what I considered a triumphant November 6, I am conflicted by feelings of joy and frustration. For all the gains we made – greater representation for people of color, more women in leadership – the political climate feels surprisingly similar.
We still have the same president debating the same speaker about the same issues. Current budget negotiations are a timely example of how gridlock is still the name of the game in Washington. Meetings between congressional leadership, advocacy groups, lobbyists, and the business community are all necessary, but at the end of the day, two men on opposite sides of the aisle have to sit down behind closed doors and make a deal.
The Obama administration has proposed a balanced approach to reducing up to $4 trillion from the federal deficit in 10 years including ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans while extending them for 98% of the population. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and congressional leadership have been successful in taking cuts to Social Security off the table but Medicare and Medicaid remain vulnerable. Republicans have repeatedly called for "entitlement reform," which they use as a guise for cutting Medicaid and Medicare benefits and raising the age of eligibility. If the 2012 election taught us anything, it was that attempts to cut or privatize these programs are widely unpopular. In fact, many Republicans lost due to their support for budget plans that cut these programs, i.e. former Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.). On election day, the American people issued a mandate and President Obama has held fast to his commitment to stand up for the middle class and hold the rich accountable for paying their fair share.
If January 2 arrives before a "grand bargain" is reached, $1.2 trillion will be cut over 10 years, including $109 billion in 2013 alone. It is estimated that this will result in 1-2 million lost jobst. These automatic spending cuts will also result in a 10% reduction in grants to states and localities. Draconian cuts like these would have a devastating effect for states already experiencing severe budget shortfalls as a result of the recession. Avoiding the scheduled sequestration is not merely a numbers game, it's personal. If states don't have the funds to pay for services like education and health care, we all suffer.
Obama is currently on the road talking about his plan to reduce the deficit while preserving benefits and saving jobs. But his balanced approach is only as strong as the public support behind it. That's where you come in. The Progressive States Network has written a letter, signed by over 160 state legislators in 47 states, urging Congress to avoid a cuts-only approach to sequestration. But to make our voices heard above all the noise in Washington, we need even more legislators to join us in signing this letter. The time is now. Call your state legislator or send an email now and ask him/her to sign this letter and bring us one step closer to a balanced approach to federal deficit reduction.