WASHINGTON WATCH: How Will The Sequester Impact Minorities? (VIDEO)

Billions of dollars in cuts to vital programs went into effect on Friday because of the sequester. We were told that would never happen, but it did.

There’s no group of people who will feel the impact more than people of color. For example, cuts to long-term unemployment disproportionately affect African-American. Cuts to low-income housing, again, disproportionately affects us and others. Healthcare — you get the picture.

Dr. Brian Smedley, VP of the Health Policy Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; and Ohio rep Marcia Fudge, also chair of the Congressional Black Caucus joined Roland Martin on the set of Washington Watch to discuss how the sequester will impact minorities.

MR. MARTIN:  Welcome back.

Billions of dollars in cuts to vital programs went into effect on Friday because of the sequester.  We were told that would never happen, but it did.

There’s no group of people who will feel the impact more than people of color.  For example, cuts to long-term unemployment disproportionately [affect] African-American.  Cuts to low-income housing, again, disproportionately [affects] us and others.  Healthcare – you get the picture.

Here to talk about that is Dr. Brian Smedley, VP of the Health Policy Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; and Ohio rep Marcia Fudge, also chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

It’s been amazing, the sequester talk.  Everybody kept saying, “Okay.  It’s not gonna happen, so we’ll go ahead and do it.”  “The Super Committee – they’ll figure it out.”

And then we finally get to the point where, okay, it actually comes [in]to play.

Critics say, “Look.  This is no big deal.  We’re actually complaining about cutting 1 percent of the budget.  Seriously, it’s not going to hurt folks.”

What say you?

DR. BRIAN SMEDLEY:  I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but this is a very significant challenge.  Here’s the issue.  We’ve got a serious health crisis in many of our communities.  Many people of color have poorer health relative to national averages.  A lot of these cuts are going to put people at risk for even poorer health.  It’s going to increase healthcare costs.

The issue is we either pay now, make these investments now to keep a healthier, safer population; or, we’re going to pay much more, later.

REP. FUDGE:  But the other thing is, Roland, when you look at – and you said it up top.  The first people who’re going to feel the effects of this are those who’re unemployed – primarily, us.  A 10 percent cut to unemployment insurance – that’s the first thing they’re going to see.

But when you start to talk about cutting Head Start, we’re already having problems with our children going to school prepared.  We’re already having problems competing with other people around the globe.  So, we’re going to cut Head Start.

Then when we start talking about cutting Title I, funds for low-income, at-risk students [are] going to be cut.  And when you start to cut those funds, then you’re cutting teachers.  You’re cutting people in other public-sector jobs, and when you cut that much money — $85 billion – out of our government spending in a seven-month period, it’s going to put this whole country into recession.

So, all of these people who think it’s not going to affect them – wait until the recession hits.

MR. MARTIN:  So, you’re dealing with a $16 trillion deficit, and then you have folks on both sides who say, “We’ve got to figure out this deficit.”

REP. FUDGE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  Your fiscal conservatives say, “Look, you’re going to have to cut something.  You simply can’t just keep spending.”  And so how do you then go about it to where it’s not adversely impacting one group, and actually you have shared pain?

DR. SMEDLEY:  The issue is making smart cuts.  Everybody agrees we’ve got to reduce the deficit.  There’s a huge issue in terms of where we spend[?] this –

MR. MARTIN:  So, how would you define “smart cuts”?

DR. SMEDLEY:  — well, I will tell you what I would not cut.  I wouldn’t cut investments in people.  People are our greatest resource, and one of the –

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.

DR. SMEDLEY:  — principal issues of Simpson-Bowles was to ensure that we don’t increase income inequality and burden those that are already vulnerable, particularly the poor.  So, we[’ve] got to be concerned about how this kind of meat-cleaver approach increases risk for already vulnerable populations.  These are not the places to make those cuts.

REP. FUDGE:  And let me just say a couple things.

Now, everybody knows I’m a very liberal person.  I think I’m number 19 on the list; they know I’m very socially liberal.  But I am a fiscal conservative.  Having been the mayor of a city, I was required to balance budgets.  I understand how it’s done, but the first thing you do is prioritize.  You don’t just say, “Let’s just cut everything across the board.”  You decide what is important, and to do that, you have to talk to one another.

I think that once we can determine where we need to cut – and I’m a firm believer that we do need to cut defense.  There is no doubt in my mind.  From the time of 9-11, we have tripled, almost, the spending on military; and I do think there need to be some cuts.  Do there need to be some cuts in some other programs?  Yes, but we have to do it in a way that makes some sense and not just take a meat axe to something that really needs a scalpel.

MR. MARTIN:  You looked at members of Congress going home.  In the past –

REP. FUDGE:  Being sent home.

MR. MARTIN:  — couple of –

REP. FUDGE:  Let me be clear.

MR. MARTIN:  — in the past couple of weeks.  We had recess.  [There’ve] been all kind[s] of other things along those lines.  Is this one of those situations where the President should grab Boehner, Cantor, McConnell, Pelosi, Reid and say, “First of all, I’m going to call Congress into session and keep you in session, and I’m going to drag all of y’all down to Camp David, and we’re going to sit here and figure this thing out”?

Because if you keep coming back to this – if it’s debt ceiling in three weeks, then if it’s something else, this is going to simply be sort of like “Groundhog Day,” replaying itself out over and over and over again.

REP. FUDGE:  Let me just make –

MR. MARTIN:  How do you solve it?

REP. FUDGE:  — one of the things that has to happen – and the American people don’t understand this.  The majority controls the House floor, so Republicans have sent us home the last two or three weeks without doing anything.  The only thing that has been work-, at least, -related that I would say is us passing VAWA last week, which I thought was outstanding.

MR. MARTIN:  The Violence Against Women Act.

REP. FUDGE:  The Violence –


REP. FUDGE:  — Against Women Act.  But we had last week two motions to adjourn – by the Republican majority – which we voted against.  To adjourn – to send us home early.  We had one early in the week, one later in the week.

They don’t want to do any work, Roland.  They want the cuts to happen, because they think it hurts us.  They really think it’s going to hurt the President.  We have decided to put politics over people.  We’ve decided to play this game with the President – this game of chicken with the President – and hurt the people that we are all elected and sworn to serve.

So, I think that the only thing that can happen is what you suggested.  The President – and it’s my understanding that those meetings are going to be ongoing.  A little late, in my opinion, but you[’ve] got to get them all in a room and –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

REP. FUDGE:  — sit them down and talk to them.

MR. MARTIN:  And I don’t mean have a meeting at the White House.  I’m talking about literally say – look, if it worked with Carter and the Israelis – with Egypt and Israel, I would think –

REP. FUDGE:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  — the exact, same thing can happen when it comes to Congress – because, Brian, [at] the end of the day, this requires leadership.  And it requires not press releases, not news conference[s], not speeches.  It requires sitting the people around the table and say[ing], “We are not leaving Camp David.  We are not leaving here until we solve this” – because we can’t talk about immigration.  We can’t talk about infrastructure.  We can’t talk about jobs.  All the other things that we need to deal with – gun violence as well – everything right now is all based upon sequestration.

DR. SMEDLEY:  That’s right.  And to add to what the Congresswoman said, we’ve got to have some straight talk on facts here.  These cuts hurt everybody –

REP. FUDGE:  That’s right.

DR. SMEDLEY:  — ultimately; because if you, for example, make folk who are the most vulnerable at risk for further bad outcomes – bad outcomes in terms of health, well-being, educational status – it hurts all of us because, at the end of the day, we all pay for that kind of inequality.

MR. MARTIN:  Well, we’ll see what happens; and, hopefully, we’ll have some leadership across the board – because when people start feeling pain, maybe the people also will start making their voice heard a lot more loud[ly] [than] they have been thus far.

REP. FUDGE:  We have to, Roland, because people are starting to believe that this is no big deal.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

REP. FUDGE:  They’re thinking that this is all kind of smoke and mirrors.  This is a big deal, and people [had] better wake up and pay attention.

MR. MARTIN:  All right, Congresswoman, Brian, we certainly appreciate it.  Thanks a lot.

REP. FUDGE:  Thank you!

DR. SMEDLEY:  Thank you.

MR. MARTIN:  All right, folks.

REP. FUDGE:  Thank you.