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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Eventually Sequester Will Cause Real Pain—And Among the First to Suffer Will Be Hungry Children

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The difference between a natural disaster and a disaster caused by politicians is that the latter will almost always hit the poor and the obscure most heavily, while a hurricane or a flood will at least sometimes spread the suffering more evenly.

As the "sequester" unfolds in Washington, we see this same old pattern holding firm: Republican leaders, now hustling to shirk responsibility for the catastrophe they predicted, insist those automated budget axes won't do any damage at all.

Has anyone felt any pain yet?

Not during the first few days, of course, but when the cuts begin to bite a month or so from now, the first to feel it will be the unemployed and the destitute for whom a few dollars of government support mean so much in their daily survival calculation. A decent policy would seek to spare them the brunt of political mistakes made by other, far more comfortable people, but this process permits no such choices—and the most vulnerable will by definition be hurt most.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which began to warn of sequestration's very real impact weeks ago, the government will have to turn away as many as 750,000 women and children who qualify for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the "highly effective" national nutrition program. Back when there was bipartisan opposition to letting people starve, legislators of both parties worked to ensure that WIC funding was sufficient to enroll every qualified family. Everyone seemed to agree that the program's cost was trivial compared with the social, moral and, yes, economic benefits of properly feeding all hungry infants and children.

Not under the sequester, when common sense and compassion become impermissible. Not under the sequester, which not only enforces the cruel cuts but allows their perpetrators to deny ownership of the specific consequences.

What makes the automatic cutback in WIC funding even worse is that the amount involved is small in modern terms. The WIC budget will have to be reduced by $692 million compared with 2012, or about the same amount as the projected price of one "Littoral Combat Ship," the Navy's latest vessel project.

Evidently a principle is at stake that can be vindicated only by taking food from the mouths of pregnant women, breastfeeding women and infants, however. Enforcing this decision—and it is a decision—are men and women who will assure voters of their fervent religious piety as well as their absolute devotion to America's beleaguered families.

Or some of America's families. 

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