Guest Column: Fiscal fundamentalism is a flight path to disaster

The following editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News on Tuesday, April 30:We keep waiting for our National Voices of Reason — a/k/a Andy Borowitz and/or the Onion — to weigh in on the sequester waiver that Congress gave last week to the neediest among us: impatient airline passengers.The sequester — a major austerity program enacted by Congress to reduce the deficit and, in the process, ruin the fragile recovering economy by imposing severe across-the-board cuts to spending — went into effect March 1.Days after furloughs for air-traffic controllers were imposed as part of the sequester, Congress moved quickly to give the Federal Aviation Administration more flexibility to keep passengers from the inconvenience of waiting in line for flights.Then Congress headed to the airport to go on a two-week vacation.We figure that the Borowitz Report and the Onion stayed silent because their heads exploded.That’s the only sane reaction to this latest outrage from Congress — which miraculously keeps topping its own outrages — the last being the defeat of gun-control measures that most Americans said they wanted, days after the Boston Marathon bombing.For perspective, airline passengers aren’t the only victims of the massive cuts that the government is imposing, which trim 7.9 percent from defense spending and about 8.2 percent from domestic spending.The sequester also will cut 70,000 children from Head Start, stop the delivery of 4 million meals to the elderly, stop some cancer patients from getting chemotherapy and potentially throw public-housing families out on the streets, among other items.According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, the sequester will lead to the loss of a million jobs.And a new report is suggesting that it could actually delay the trial for Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev because of cuts to the federal public defenders’ office.Way to go, Congress!Republican members of Congress rampaged against the size of government and its deficit, and refused compromises to impose the austerity cuts.But austerity can be deadly to a slowly recovering economy, which requires investment and building, not cutting and killing. In fact, in some ways, the damage Congress is doing with the sequester is not less benign than the damage done to the economy by the banking and investment industry in 2008.Greed drove the near collapse of the economy in 2008. The motivations for congressional conservatives who have pushed for austerity are fundamentalist — with all the rigidity and intolerance that that implies. In some ways, that’s far more damaging.How? The deepening inequities between the haves and the have-nots in this country is well-documented; the Congressional Budget Office reported that between 1979 and 2007, real household income grew by 62 percent, while income of households in the top 1 percent of earners grew by 275 percent.What’s more disturbing is the increasing intolerance for those in the bottom. That this intolerance is embodied by an act of Congress is intolerable.