Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation spoke out passionately this morning against upcoming automatic federal spending cuts, portraying them as potentially devastating to children, the elderly, and the poor.
“Sequestration is just a fancy word for cuts, cuts in programs that really go right to the heart of caring for those people who need it the most within our society,” US Representative Edward J. Markey said at a rally at an anti-poverty agency in dowtown Boston.
The “sequestration” cuts are a result of a political standoff between Democrats and Republicans over how to reduce the federal budget deficit. The onerous cuts were agreed to by Congress and the president in 2011 as an incentive to negotiators to reach a deal. But no deal has been reached as the March 1 deadline approaches. This year’s cuts would be the leading edge of $1 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years.
Tim Buckley, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Republican party, said Markey and other Democratic politicians at the news conference, “instead of complaining here in Boston ... should head back to D.C. and talk to President Obama as the idea for sequestration originated in the White House.”
“It is no wonder that career politicians like [US Representative Stephen F.] Lynch and Markey have failed to accomplish anything, they are too busy blaming others while America’s economy suffers,” he said in a statement.
Markey warned at the rally that programs such as Head Start and Meals on Wheels would be affected by the cuts. “We’re talking about people who are trying to get their graduate equivalency degrees, we’re talking about the $13 million for children with disabilities here in Massachusetts,” he said.
“We are basically right now in a situation that there is a storm on its way, a hurricane on its way. … It is the storm of poverty, it is the storm of job loss, it is the storm of despair. But unlike natural disasters, we have the power to stop this one.”
Lynch, who is vying with Markey for the Democratic nomination in the special election for US Senate, told the crowd at Action for Boston Community Development his own family’s story as he attempted to bring home the effects of the cuts. He said he had grown up in public housing with his parents and five sisters.
“If we didn’t have public housing, my family would have been homeless,” he said.
Lynch said his 88-year-old mother benefits from services for the elderly that face cuts.
Lynch also mentioned transitional care substance abuse programs for boys and girls in South Boston, saying “those programs are threatened now. We have to stop talking about numbers and start talking about lives. … That’s what really is at stake here,” he said.
US Representative Michael E. Capuano said Republicans have not been open to compromise to avert the crisis.
“Most of them come to Washington because they don’t like government, they don’t think government should play a role in our lives. Maybe they don’t know anybody who needs heating assistance. Maybe they don’t know anybody who suffers [a lack of] affordable, decent housing, maybe they don’t know any kids who go to Head Start.”
“I don’t really look at this as a fight about money. I don’t really look at this as a fight about sequestration. Most people really don’t understand what it means,” Capuano said. “I, honest to God, see this as a discussion, a deep and hard discussion that the American people have to have with themselves over what kind of society we want to live in, what kind of country do we want to leave behind. Do we, honest to God, want to live in a society that literally allows seniors to freeze in their homes?”
“This country doesn’t have a spending problem,” said US Representative John Tierney. “This county has an ... inequality problem, it has a jobs problem and it has an opportunity deficit problem.”
US Senator Elizabeth Warren, the last to speak, said the country faces a choice.
“We can be a country that says, ‘I got mine, the rest of you are on your own.’ We can be that kind of country, or we can be a country that says, ‘We believe in opportunity, we believe in our children and our grandchildren.’”
Warren said the cuts sought could be achieved without going after the various programs that she and her colleagues say are essential to families.
“We need to make cuts to wasteful programs like agriculture subsidies,” she said. “We’re ending two wars, we can make cuts to our military budget, we can close corporate loopholes. There are ways to bring our financial house in order. The president has put a strong proposal on the table,” she said.
All the members of the state’s congressional delegation are Democrats. Democrats are trying to go directly to the public to pressure Republicans back to the negotiating table. President Obama has pushed a proposal that includes a mix of spending and tax increases, while Republicans have balked at raising taxes.
John Drew, president and chief executive of ABCD, said his organization would have to break the news to its elderly and low-income clients that they may not be getting oil to heat their homes or delivered meals, if no deal is reached in Washington.
“Look, folks, this is not a joke, but it is beginning to look like a tragedy,” Drew said.Brian Ballou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.