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Cut spending responsibly

It’s important for the nation to put its fiscal house in order. Sequestration is a potentially disastrous way to do it, however.

Sequestration is the name for $85 billion in automatic across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to take effect March 1 unless Congress and the president can get their act together long enough to avoid them.

The idea of the sequester was part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, created by that summer’s manufactured debt ceiling crisis. President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats and Republicans included a provision in the act that would automatically and equally cut from domestic and defense spending. They assumed that such a ruinous possibility would force them to come together and strike a compromise on spending and forge a bipartisan path to reduce the national debt.

They grossly underestimated their own foolishness.

Texas will be hit hard by the automatic cuts, should the sequester take place as scheduled, and one of the hardest hits will come from the expected $46 billion reduction in defense spending that will take place over the seven months that remain in this fiscal year.

Recently, the Defense Department sent notice to 800,000 of its civilian employees nationwide that they might be placed on periods of unpaid leave if budget cuts begin to take effect next week. Furloughs won’t start right away, and won’t affect uniformed service members, but come they will should the cuts take effect and be allowed to continue.

Texas is home to numerous major military bases and installations. According to a state-by-state breakdown published Feb. 15 by the Army, the cumulative negative economic impact on Texas of the sequester and other changes to the Army’s budget potentially could be as high as $2.4 billion.

Short term, the Army anticipates furloughing almost 30,000 civilian employees, with a loss of $180 million in pay. While furloughs wouldn’t affect military personnel, the cuts would stall operations at Army facilities in Texas. The Army estimates that Fort Hood’s share of the reductions might total $291 million.

Similar effects would be felt at the state’s Air Force bases and naval facilities.

The Pentagon’s budget has been cut and can be cut further, but cuts should be made carefully and without harming the nation’s defense or the military’s readiness. The effect of budget cuts on local communities should also be considered. Several major defense contractors have big operations in Texas. General Dynamics, Bell Helicopter and Lockheed Martin, among others, employ thousands here.

The sequester also would put the non-defense-related jobs of tens of thousands of other Texans at risk. According to a report last year by the Pew Center on the States, federal spending represents 5.4 percent of Texas’ economy. Whacking that spending would harm the state budget, public schools, university research, student financial aid and health care. The hit to public education alone could reach $517 million, according to estimates.

Counting both military-related and non-military-related jobs, as many as 160,000 Texans could lose work if the sequester takes effect and holds, according to a recent study by George Mason University that also forecast more than 2 million lost jobs nationwide.

Whatever you think of federal spending, and we realize most Texans don’t think too highly of it, the cost to the state, the military and the nation of cutting the federal budget by sequester is too high.

Austin American-Statesman