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Cancel the Sequester! It's Really That Simple for Congress

It's not usual for politicians to admit error.

The "sequester" poses an unnecessary and huge danger, potentially inflicting deep wounds to the economy and to our nation's communities and families.

The sequester is not a hurricane, a tornado, a flood, or some other natural disaster. It is not the collapse of a bridge (though it could result in that). This potentially devastating, self-imposed wound could be eliminated in less than five minutes! All it would take is the political courage to admit a mistake and then agree to its cancellation.

Specifically, the sequester is a series of automatic spending cuts that the last Congress enacted and that the president signed into law. Everyone agrees that cuts of this magnitude will wreak all sorts of undesirable and unnecessary damage -- cost 750,000 jobs, create long lines at airports, make it more difficult to claim earned Social Security benefits, hurt our educational system, make our food less safe, and more.

The sequester idea may have sounded good back in 2011 but is now widely understood to be problematic because unemployment is still very high and there is need to focus on the nation's true priorities (jobs, investment in infrastructure, education and research).

Unfortunately, politicians have backed themselves into a corner and now risk making a different mistake. Instead of cancelling the sequester, some call for the substitution of unpopular cuts to our nation's Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid systems. Instead of keeping their promise that they will not support changes that take away hard-earned benefits of today's seniors and people with disabilities, they are trying to sneak a cut to Social Security by reducing cost of living adjustments received annually by all current and future Social Security beneficiaries. (Let's state again that the inclusion of Social Security into the deficit debate obscures the fact that by law the program cannot, and indeed does not, add one penny to the debt.)

Our Social Security system enjoys wide support among voters, and we believe that in a democracy, the will of the people should count for something. When polled, Americans across partisan and demographic lines reject cuts to Social Security. Americans are clear and so should we all still be, 'no cuts to our Social Security system and no more cuts to our Social Security Administration.'

As Social Security Works' new fact sheet points out:

Along with the United States Postal Service and the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration is the primary place where Americans interact directly with their federal government. In fiscal year 2012, 45 million people visited Social Security field offices and 79 million people called the Social Security 800 number.

The natural instinct is to assume that America's Social Security Administration (SSA) must give a little like everyone else and any cut to a program is a small price to pay in order get our fiscal house in order. The truth is, just as Social Security benefits don't add to the deficit, neither do the costs to administer the program. Those monies too come out of its dedicated revenue. The program currently has a $2.7 trillion surplus and growing!

Notwithstanding that huge surplus, the Social Security Administration has been forced by those who brought us the sequester to spend far less than it needed during the recession. On average, applicants for benefits already wait hours just to register and even longer to talk to a human being, all due to budget cuts. Many of these applicants have arrived at SSA at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives: a tragic loss of a spouse or parent, or a disability or old age that has robbed them of their ability to work. Further budget cuts serve to exacerbate their traumatic experiences.

Instead of focusing on unemployment, the nation is poised to engage in more fiscal showdowns -- and the sequester will be another scene in this very bad horror movie.

The simple solution not being discussed in Washington or beyond the beltway is that Congress could cancel sequestration with the stroke of its legislative pen. Yes, it's that easy.

But sequestration is gathering to be a perfect storm of bad timing and hard-willed attitudes. The news media are only now marrying their coverage of very real cuts with the economic possibilities of longer lines at SSA offices and job layoffs.

Take a moment and sign our petition calling on the White House and Congress to, " Cancel the Sequester and protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. "

Petition link:

This column originally ran in the Huffington Post.

Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, Founding Co-Directors of Social Security Works and Co-Chairs of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition.

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