WASHINGTON, D.C., March 5 - This thing we now call "the sequester" is a manufactured monster.
Approximately two years ago, the 112th Congress passed extreme across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. This budget measure was designed to be so drastic that it was supposed to force a bipartisan compromise on reducing the deficit. All sides agree seem to agree that the cuts were never meant to happen.
As we now know, there was no compromise. Partisan gridlock got in the way of good public policy. On March 1, 2013, sequestration took effect. It threatens the future of Texas families and the economic prosperity of our state. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, sequestration would cut economic growth in 2013 by one-third. A report from the House Committee on Appropriations projected a loss of 2.14 million jobs, nearly half of which would come from small businesses.
A 2012 George Mason University study estimated that Texas could lose almost 160,000 jobs. Data compiled by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that in the area of defense, Texas would be among the hardest hit. Of particular importance to the 23rd Congressional District is the impact of the sequester on border security, trade, and commerce.
Efforts and numerous studies over the years have been made to reduce border wait times and increase border security. Many jobs in Texas – and much of our economy are inextricably linked to international trade. Trade with Mexico represents one of our biggest economic drivers and pumps billions to our economy.
Ironically, sequestration - a congressionally-mandated act - is now one of the biggest threats to border security and hindrance to our ongoing trade and commerce.
The 23rd Congressional District runs 800 miles of the Texas- Mexico border. It includes five Ports of Entry – in Eagle Pass, Del Rio, Presidio, Fabens, and Zaragoza-Ysleta in El Paso. Security at these vital ports would be affected - as would trade and commerce.
According to the White House, Border protection officials will be forced to slash $754 million from their budget. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will not be able to maintain current staffing levels of 21,775 Customs Officers and 21,370 Border Patrol Agents. In the near term, CBP may need to furlough CBP Officers and Border Patrol Agents between 12 and 14 days. CBP would have to reduce its work hours by the equivalent of over 5,000 border patrol agents and the equivalent of over 2,750 CBP officers, as well as reduce overtime, beginning April 1.
It is not difficult to see the results of these actions. It is a matter of simple math. Funding and staffing reductions would increase wait times at ports of entry, weaken security, and slow screening and entry for those traveling into the United States. Less security. Less reliable commerce.
Already, the long lines at our ports hinder economic development and harm our economy. The sequester could increase wait times at our busiest ports - up to five hours or more during peak times - bringing commerce to a virtual halt.
Our nation's doorways must be secure. And, our trade and commerce along the border - on which many small and large businesses depend - must be allowed to move efficiently. These are basic principles. Yet, the sequester undermines them both.
There is no question that we need to cut the deficit. I am a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition - and I believe that the federal government - like our beloved State of Texas - should have a balanced budget. However, there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. We should do it the right way.
Unfortunately, it seems that military families, along with those of us on the border, will be on the front line of many of these cuts.
Pete Gallego is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. A Democrat from Alpine, Texas, he represents the 23rd Congressional District in Texas.