Liberal Democrat says sequestration would devastate social programs

A senior liberal senator on Wednesday highlighted what he said would be the "devastating" impact of sequestration on social programs. 

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Labor, Health appropriations subcommittee, released a detailed report on the coming cuts to social programs in an attempt to highlight the other half of sequestration, beyond the automatic cuts to defense spending that are set to hit in January.

“Some members of Congress warn that defense contracting firms will lay off employees if sequestration goes into effect,” Harkin said. “They say nothing of the tens of thousands of teachers, police officers and other public servants in communities all across America who would also lose their jobs.”

He said his report illustrates the need to find a balanced deficit-reduction package that includes tax increases right away. The across-the-board cuts are set to hit due to the failure of the deficit supercommittee last year.

Defense hawks have dominated the conversation in recent weeks about the so-called sequestration cuts, but non-defense programs will also be hit by the $109 billion in cuts that are coming under the Budget Control Act.

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So far, the Obama administration has been unwilling or unable to give an official comprehensive picture of the coming cuts. The House has passed a bill by a nearly unanimous margin to force the Office of Management and Budget to detail how sequestration would be carried out. 

The Harkin report says that states and local communities would lose $2.7 billion in Title I, special education state grants and Head Start funding, forcing a possible 46,349 layoffs. It says 659,476 fewer people would be tested for HIV and 1.6 million fewer adults would receive job training.

Harkin assumes a 7.8 percent across-the-board cut to education programs.

On Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the numbers look accurate. He said the effects of the cuts will be “staggering” and the United States already has unacceptable education statistics.

“The fact we are 16th in the world in college graduation is not something to be proud of,” he said.

“The sequestration will put at risk all that we have accomplished in education,” he told Harkin’s committee.

Labor, Health subcommittee ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said the administration must issue an official report.

“I am concerned this does not present an accurate portrayal,” he said. “It as if the administration wants Congress to be both blind and mute on sequestration.”

He said Congress must come up with a long-term deficit solution with real spending cuts.

Former supercommittee chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said at the hearing that any deal has to be “balanced” and fair to the middle class. She said that Democrats will not accept an unbalanced deal.

Last week, Murray threatened to go over the fiscal cliff, which includes year-end sequestration and the end of the George W. Bush-era tax rates, if Democrats don’t get “revenue from the wealthiest Americans.”