Replace the sequester before it's too late

Over the past six years, Maryland has taken a balanced approach when it comes to fiscal policy — making responsible cuts to spending while prioritizing investments in jobs, opportunity, and a stronger middle class. Because of this balanced approach, we're on the verge of eliminating Maryland's long-standing structural deficit, we have achieved the No. 1 public schools in the country for five years in a row, and since 2007, we've done more than any other state in the nation to hold down the cost of college tuition.

Marylanders have seen 33,600 new jobs created in 2012 and 8,200 new jobs created in the first month of 2013. Our state has now recovered 86 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, and we're working to build on our designation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as the No. 1 state for innovation and entrepreneurship by attracting even more companies that will invest here and create the jobs of tomorrow.

But because of the unwillingness of some members of Congress to work across the aisle to address our deficit problem in a balanced way, a series of automatic spending cuts known as sequestration have now gone into effect. This irrational process of cutting our lowest and highest priorities equally could have serious, negative consequences for job creation and economic growth in our state.

While sequestration's impact will build over the coming months, Marylanders stand to lose substantially if Congress is unable to replace these arbitrary cuts with a balanced alternative. Up to 46,000 civilian Defense Department employees in Maryland, as well as thousands of employees at our 60 non-defense federal facilities, could be affected by furloughs. These furloughs could result in a pay reduction for federal employees across the state, and the millions of Americans who rely on the services that federal workers provide could be affected, including our men and women serving in uniform and veterans who are transitioning back into the workforce.

Additionally, investments that are critical to strengthening our middle class and maintaining our competitiveness could experience drastic cuts. In Maryland alone, more than 9,000 fewer people could receive job training and placement services to help them find work. Approximately 800 fewer children in Maryland could be enrolled in Head Start and Early Head Start programs that help kids succeed in school. Around 770 fewer low-income Maryland college students could receive financial aid, and 400 fewer students could obtain work-study jobs that help them pay for college. Our law enforcement officials in Maryland could lose grants that support crime prevention and drug treatment and enforcement. And around 2,050 Maryland children could lose their access to vaccines for dangerous but preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, whooping cough and the flu.

We have a better choice than these indiscriminate, across-the-board spending cuts. House Democrats, led by a fellow Marylander, Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen; Senate Democrats, led by Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski; and President Barack Obama, have proposed alternatives that turn off sequestration by replacing it with a balanced solution to deficits that includes both spending cuts and new revenues. Unfortunately, Republicans in the House, who control the agenda, have refused to allow votes on any of these alternatives, denying the American people an opportunity to learn where their representatives stand on this critical issue.

However, there is still time to replace sequestration with a balanced alternative before its worst consequences strike families and businesses in Maryland. We continue to urge both parties in Congress to work together to reverse sequestration so that we can avoid the harmful impact of these arbitrary cuts. Doing so will also help end the uncertainty that has held back private sector job creation and the growth of opportunities for the middle class.

Moving forward, Maryland ought to serve as an example of how a balanced approach can bring about real economic progress and job growth. We hope Congress will look to the work that has been done just 35 miles away in Annapolis and in communities throughout our state that reflects the seriousness of our fiscal challenges and a determination to continue building opportunities for all Marylanders to pursue the American Dream.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat, is House Minority Whip. He represents Maryland's 5th District. Martin O'Malley, also a Democrat, is Maryland governor.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad