Sequester problems rooted in bad priorities

As many federal employees brace for furloughs that will deliver a 20 percent pay cut, and New Mexico prepares for reductions in federal funding for everything from education to job search assistance to anti-pollution efforts, rest easy in knowing your tax dollars have saved 68 imperiled Gila trout that have found temporary shelter in an Albuquerque warehouse.

If that doesn't exemplify the dysfunction of Washington's priorities, nothing can.

The looming $85 billion in broad-based mandatory federal spending reductions are the result of a 2011 deal between the Obama administration, which proposed what it is now terming a "meat cleaver approach," and Congress to raise the debt ceiling. The agreement gave these elected officials more than a year to come up with a better plan to get the nation closer to living within its means.

And that more than a year has come and gone.

So in less than a month, domestic and defense spending will be slashed.

The biggest hit to New Mexico, according to the White House, is $42 million in pay to around 7,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense. They will lose a day every week, as well as see their pension, vacation and sick time accruals reduced accordingly.

New Mexico has three Air Force bases, and the Air Force is warning that construction projects will be delayed. There is no question discretionary spending will dry up.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has money to rescue 68 Gila trout from Whiskey Creek in southwestern New Mexico, which was at risk after last year's Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire laid waste to its surrounding ecosystem.

The fish are now living in tanks painted brown to mimic their home streams, with Home Depot gravel substituting for the stream bottoms and chillers and sunlamps mimicking day and night.

Perhaps the New Mexico teachers, aides and students facing more than $10 million in federal cuts next month can appreciate the fact Fish and Wildlife has been busy installing rocks, pipe and fake aquarium plants in the tanks because the fish love to hide.

The point here is not to devalue efforts that protect threatened species and thus the ecosystem at large or to claim eliminating this small project would have prevented sequestration; it's that Washington is unable to set real budget priorities and make the hard choices necessary to end the nation's dependence on money from China and Japan for everyday operations.

Our current national lifestyle requires borrowing more than $40,000 a second, according to numbers provided by the Congressional Budget Office.

Instead, our elected leaders are willing to allow cuts that affect Americans and American jobs go into effect without giving the nation's spending the serious evaluation it requires.

And that smell isn't from the fish.

— Albuquerque Journal

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