What is The Sequester?
The sequester is a set of automatic cuts that was set into place through the Budget Control Act of 2011. The cuts are 1.2 trillion dollars over 10 years, 500 billion of which would be cut from defense spending, the other from a number of government organizations, ranging from education to Homeland Security.
The effect of the cuts will be fairly abrupt, resulting in about $85 billion in what will be fairly immediate cuts. Agencies affected will have about a month before they will start furloughing workers due to the cuts.
This, unlike the debt ceiling debate, is a crisis of our own making. While deficit reduction is vital in the long term, the consequences of letting the sequester come and stay in effect, the CBO estimates will prevent 3/4 of a million jobs over the next year.
The sequester was designed to be painful to both parties, hitting Republicans on defense budgets, and liberal-friendly agencies like the EPA, FDA, FAA, and education programs. It was meant to force both parties to strike more balanced deals, by if not additional revenues, then by making more even and precise cuts.
In September 2012, “the Obama Administration, released a report stating that sequestration is bad policy, and that Congress can and should take action to avoid it by passing a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction package.”
Republicans are making him eat his own words, however, by saying that even though sequestration was designed to be avoided – “you signed it, you live with it. “
How Has Each Party Tried to Avoid It?
Republicans are quite far ahead of the curve on a proposal to avoid the sequester. Back in May of 2012, they had proposed a measure that would trade much of the cuts to the Pentagon with cuts to food stamps and other social programs, legislation which unsurprisingly didn’t pass in the Senate. The Republican-controlled congress’ alternative to the sequester proposed $315 billion in cuts, with no raised revenues.
Representative Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said “the president last month got an enormous amount of revenue with no spending cuts. Now he’s going to get cuts with no revenue.”
Democrats offered a more stopgap way of addressing the sequester, proposing $110 billion rather than $500 billion in cuts, half by raising addiional revenues on the wealthy, and the other half splits the cost between defense cuts and cutting agriculture and oil subsidies.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader said it’s “a waste of time” and a “political stunt” for the Senate to propose something that is half and half.
Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader said in response to the opposition, “the reason we have a problem here is because our Republican colleagues have refused to have one red cent from the wealthiest people in our country contribute to resolving this fiscal crisis, this budget crisis.”
Additionally, President Obama said that the Republican’s proposal to fix the sequester will “force our senior citizens and working families to bear the burden of deficit reduction while asking the wealthiest to do nothing more. That won’t work. You can’t just cut your way to prosperity.”
Republicans are unified in pointing out how late the Democratic budget proposal has come, and are trying badly to be seen as not precipitating the sequester because of their hard line against tax increases, despite the fact that nearly all polls indicate the public is in favor of a balanced approach to deficit reduction.
I should also point out that, although the end-of year budget negotiations didn’t include new cuts, the agreement for raised revenues were reached on a bi-partisan basis. Obama wanted a marginal tax increase on those making 250,000 a year and got 400,000. If Republicans wanted cuts bad enough at the time, they should’ve fought for them, but they didn’t because the it was a politically inauspicious moment for them. Obama had just won reelection and the public was hostile to any sign of obstructionism. Now they are trying to hold the economy hostage due to those past failures and pin the consequences on the President and Senate. Whether it’s through piecemeal or long-term budget proposals, Republicans should expect revenues to represent some reasonable ratio to forthcoming spending cuts in deficit reduction plans.
Greg Sargent writes “Dems have thus far conceded around twice as much in spending cuts as Republicans have in revenues. […] Republicans have defined victory in this battle as agreeing to no revenue increases whatsoever.
The more successful they are in deflecting the blame of bringing on the sequester, the less culpable they are for potentially sabotaging an already fragile recovery. Some Republicans (like Lindsey Graham), in discussing this, have been hardly able to contain their glee about the prospect of hampering Obama’s last chance at achieving a strong recovery in his second term, making an already disenchanted electorate that much more eager for a Republican approach in 2016.
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