In reference to Thomas D. Taverney’s op-ed piece “The ‘S’ Word: The Beginning, Not the End” [Commentary, May 6, page 19], the sequestration is a political game. It is not necessary; it should never have been enacted. 

If the U.S. Congress is serious about cutting the deficit, there are many very simple things it can do. Here are some of them, according to the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Economic Policy Institute:

  • Tax capital gains as ordinary income.
  • End corporate offshore tax havens.
  • Institute a Wall Street sales tax — a very small tax on high-speed trading. 
  • Eliminate welfare for the oil, gas and coal companies.
  • Allow Medicare Part D prescription drug negotiation (like the Department of Veterans Affairs does). 
  • Offer a public option to the Affordable Care Act.
  • Return defense spending to 2006 levels.

Taverney is correct that defense spending leaves a lot of room for cuts. Decreasing defense spending from the $520 billion in President Barack Obama’s budget to $450 billion for a solid military budget, as Taverney indicated, is a good start. Taverney says defense spending is consuming the smallest share of federal spending in 50 years. What’s not mentioned is the military accounts for 57 percent of all U.S. discretionary spending; the U.S. share of global military spending is 42 percent; the United States spends five times what the next highest military (China) spends; and U.S. military spending is greater than the next 14 top military spenders (including China) combined.

Taverney indicates that U.S. spending over the next 10 years would be $47 trillion without sequestration and $46 trillion with it. Throwing those big numbers around (and they are big numbers) puts “shock and awe” into the discussion, but doesn’t really say much; it doesn’t account for revenue or increases in the gross domestic product. If my spouse said to me, “I’m going to go out and spend $400,000 over the next 10 years,” she would thereafter be known as “my ex-spouse.” But if she quickly added, “To be paid for by my $40,000 yearly income and 3 percent annual pay raises,” that sounds a lot better. Also, the United States has the largest economy in the world; it is in the top four in population and land area — of course the spending (and revenue) numbers will be big.

The reason the sequestration was put into effect is that the Republican-controlled Congress and the president consistently ignore the 70-plus members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the responsible budgets they put forth, which balances the budget and gives science, space and technology agencies (like NASA) a $78.1 billion increase in spending over the next 10 years.

Patrick R. Stoffel

Oregon, Wis.