Column

Author Austin Matthews

Author Austin Matthews

April 16, 2013

Is sequestration really necessary?
By Austin Matthews

A breakdown of the federal budget under sequestration.

A breakdown of the federal budget under sequestration.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about the sequestration of our federal budget. There are people that are worried about it and people that are upset about it. But mostly I think there are many people that have no idea what it is or what it will mean for them.  To take a deeper look at the problem, I think at first we need to establish a few facts about our federal government and its budget.

In the world of government there are a multitude of programs that make up the Federal Budget. Some of these programs are very popular and important to people. For example, we have Medicare, which offers inexpensive healthcare to older people.  Medicare is actually cheaper and more efficient per person than private insurance, but it’s still extremely expensive because older people have more health issues than younger people. We also have something called Medicaid, which provides health insurance for our poorer citizens. Combined, these two programs make up 23% of the federal budget. Social security, another very popular program that gives older citizens money to live on, makes up another 22% of the budget. Altogether these programs make up 45% of our federal budget, and are what’s called Mandatory Spending Programs.

In addition to our national health insurance and Social Security, 13% of the budget goes to other mandatory spending for things like federal judge salaries, and  6% goes to the interest on our national debt. This makes the grand total of mandatory spending 64% of the federal governments budget.

The remaining 36% of the budget, which congress allocates yearly or even every few years if they want, is called discretionary spending. This is for everything from highways, to science programs like NASA, to veteran’s benefits, or even agriculture. Then of course, there is our nations defense, which takes up more than half of the discretionary spending.

Another important thing to understand is that the United States has a long-term debt problem, but it does not have a short-term debt problem. For example right now our country can borrow money for close to no interest, with no problem. This is because we have a strong economy, we haven’t ever defaulted on our debt, and there is no reason to think that we would. Also, our budget deficit, which is the annual difference between what we take in and what we spend, is shrinking pretty fast and may not be a problem in the foreseeable future.

Our country does have a very serious long-term debt problem with our mandatory spending. For instance, the cost of Medicare and Medicaid could double over the next thirty years as citizens get older and health care costs continue to rise, and the cost of Social Security could follow. So we either need to increase revenues or decrease benefits, or our deficit will fishtail and increase our debt.

So now we have a long-term problem that will need a long-term solution. This is where the sequester comes in. If we look back to 2011, the U.S. almost defaulted on its debt.  Not because we could not afford to pay, but because congress would not raise the debt ceiling. This was extremely funny to me, seeing as how the reason we reached the debt ceiling was because of budgets that congress had passed. In response, congress passed the budget control act, which raised the debt ceiling in order to pay for the budgets that they had previously created. By passing the budget act they also created a committee that would address the nations long-term fiscal problems, and keep them from fishtailing out of control. In order for Congress to make sure that this committee did their job, they created a bomb they called Sequestration. If they could not come to an agreement on a sensible budget plan, then the bomb would go off and there would be automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion across the board. Half to defense and half to other spending, very little of the cuts are to the mandatory spending programs, which are causing the long-term debt problem.

The sequester is such an incredibly bad idea, it was proposed with the hope that it would scare congress in to cooperation. This is what feels insane to me. Congress is using horrible ideas to force people to compromise, but when they fail, only we are affected. The sequester is not a horrible idea because of the cuts that are taking place, but because they are indiscriminate.  Every single program or project funded by the U.S. government has to be cut by the same percentage, except those mandatory programs that are causing the problems. That means that all federal programs will be cut by 8%, no matter the program’s importance. It is ridiculous that instead of choosing which programs we can afford to get rid of, we have to shave every program by 8%. It will also cost us between half a million to two million jobs. Instead of getting rid of jobs because they are out of date or not needed as much, we are just going to cut. The sequestration is causing more problems while also failing to fix any existing problems. It does nothing at all to address the long-term debt problem our country is facing. Congress has attempted to solve a long-term problem by creating a short-term problem and that fails to fix anything.

Some people may think that this is President Obama’s fault for bringing this idea up in the first place, but I am here to remind everyone that the president does not pass legislation in our country.  No, this was all due to congress and their inherent inability solve problems.

The sequestration is a symbol of everything that people don’t like about government. I feel like we could have and should have done a better job as one of the most powerful countries in the world. I am actually embarrassed by this whole thing and I hope that we can find a way to redeem ourselves. We have a lot to be proud about in this country, but I can honestly say that the sequestration was not one of them.

February 2013

“We need to regulate guns”
A young father’s reaction to America’s gun problem
By Austin Matthews

With the outrage and horror inflicted just weeks ago by Adam Lanza, who killed 27 people including 20 school children in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, calls are already being cast for a change.  On January 16, President Obama stepped forward announcing his plans to change regulations on gun control. His plans include a universal background check for anyone purchasing a gun, as well as restoring the ban on military-style assault weapons and reducing guns to ten rounds per magazine, which would hopefully make it harder for shooters to keep up steady rates of fire during massacres.

The president gave a short speech accompanied by a group of four children who were affected by the shooting and wrote him letters. The president read passages from the letters the children had written to him, and explained that it is our duty to keep our children safe.

“I’m not scared for my safety, I’m scared for others. I have four brothers and sisters and I know I would not be able to bare the thought of losing any of them,” said Julia Stokes in a letter she sent to the president.

With this action taken by the president, gun-supporters such as the National Rifle Association are calling Obama’s plan an attack on the Second Amendment. I doubt when the second amendment was written, our fore-fathers had a clue that assault rifles carrying thirty round clips were going to be used to murder people as they enjoyed a tub of popcorn at the local movie theatre. This is the world we are living in and as it changes, so must we.

When the second amendment was written, the founding fathers feared that the government could devolve into tyranny. They were also afraid because the country is huge and there were not going to be laws out in the west where people needed to protect themselves, whether it was from bears or from other people. Times are a lot different now and though I believe in the right to bear arms, I don’t think people should be able to walk out and easily get an assault rifle with an extended magazine full of ammunition, just for the sake of having one. Our society glorifies guns to the point that almost anyone who wants one and has the money for it can obtain a firearm in a very short time.

“In the past month more than nine hundred or our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun,” said President Obama in his speech.

What more needs to be said to catch the attention of Americans? We are all afraid of terrorists killing us, but we are doing such a great job of it ourselves. Gun-enthusiasts are saying that if more people could legally carry a gun then the next time some psycho starts shooting a movie theatre up, they will be able to put him down and save lives. That may be true but what happens when you step on the shoe of one of those five people in the movie theatre with a legal gun on their hip and they decide that’s just enough for them to shoot you? Are we supposed to feel safer letting more people walk around with guns, to our grocery stores, banks, parks such as Disneyland with hundreds of children around? The thought of saving more lives by selling more people guns is insane.

We are not at a point where we should be looking for a new way, we are at a place that we need a new way of regulating guns. Why would it ever be a bad idea to regulate extremely dangerous weapons with better background checks? Why do we need to be able to have guns that can hold a capacity of over ten rounds? The answer is that we don’t.

According to the ABC news statistics website, in the U.S. where more people own guns than anywhere else in the world, there are over 129,827 federally licensed gun dealers. That number may not seem very large, but when you compare that to the number of grocery stores in all of the U.S., which is 36,569, you can begin to imagine what a huge number that really is. We live in a society in which the number of places you can purchase a firearm outnumbers the places you buy food to live on, by over 3.5 times. Is this what our fore-fathers were dreaming of when they wrote the Second Amendment? I would hope not.

I wonder why places like the United Kingdom have so little gun violence compared to the U.S.? In 2009 the U.K. reported the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world with .7 recorded homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 people. The U.S. was over 40 times higher with a recorded rate of 3.0 per 100,000 people. I feel like these numbers should be telling us that we could learn something valuable from our distant neighbors. Many of their law enforcement officers don’t even carry firearms on duty, and there were only three fatalities from gun violence with officers between the years 2000 to 2011.

We are a great nation capable of even greater things, and we are strong enough to come together and put a stop to this senseless killing and violence. No one is asking for you to give up your rights and your means of protection. We are asking for a change. We are asking for a new way of doing things that will potentially save millions of lives, but even if it just saved one wouldn’t that be worth it? We need to look at the fact that guns for protection are doing just the opposite, and as one of the greatest nations in the world, we deserve more for ourselves and the world deserves more from us.

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