Sequestration scare leaves most unmoved
This Friday, barring some unlikely last-minute budget agreement, across-the-board federal budget cuts will begin to be implemented as part of the budget sequestration agreement adopted in 2011.
To hear members of President Barack Obama’s administration tell it, sequestration will result in a combination of chaos, confusion and apocalypse.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, speaking to reporters on Friday, “predicted chaos at the nation’s busiest airports because thousands of FAA workers — including air traffic controllers — will be furloughed” due to sequestration, The Hill online magazine reported.
Earlier last week, Americans were told there would be delays in opening our most iconic national parks and cuts in important education programs unless Republicans relent and agree to new tax hikes to prevent sequestration.
Americans responded to this sky-is-falling rhetoric with a collective, “Ho hum.”
Only 17 percent of those polled last week by the Rasmussen polling organization believe sequestration will actually cut government spending. Most say it will only reduce the growth in spending. And 68 percent say cutting spending is the best thing government can do to help the economy.
Despite all this, we believe sequestration is a poor prescription for the nation’s budget woes. It is a gimmick agreed to more than 18 months ago to postpone making necessary decisions then. It is a blunderbuss approach to budget cutting, when surgical precision is needed.
Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman understands this. Last week, the member of the House Armed Services Committee proposed $500 million in targeted cuts to the Defense Department budget instead of the across-the-board cuts due to begin Friday. Among other things, his plan would allow Pentagon officials to eliminate wasteful earmark spending.
But there seems little chance that Coffman’s proposal, or other similar plans for different agencies of the federal government, can move forward before Friday.
Both parties seem to believe they have more to gain politically by allowing the sequester to take effect than by working toward a compromise to prevent it. (A Pew survey last week indicated Obama and Democrats have a slight advantage over Republicans in that regard, at least among Americans who know or care about sequestration.)
In any event, once again members of both parties are putting political interests ahead of the country’s.
Even after sequestration takes effect, a critical need to deal with the nation’s long-term debt will remain. To that end, former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton adviser Erskine Bowles last week released a revised version of their 2010 plan to attack the debt and the deficit.
As before, it is a reasonable plan that recognizes the need for budget cuts, especially to entitlement programs, as well as increased revenue and serious tax reform. But Simpson and Bowles also understand that too much austerity too quickly could cripple the economic recovery, so theirs is a measured approach.
We hope the plan will get serious consideration among Washington’s leaders.
Meanwhile, on Friday The New York Times reported that, despite their differences on sequestration, the White House is reaching out to congressional Republicans to try to find common ground that will lead to a grand bargain on the budget and debt. But both sides remain skeptical of the other’s motives, and no one was overly optimistic.
Again, we can only hope that there is a real opportunity for progress and compromise, not simply more political posturing.
But we must admit, we feel a bit like Charlie Brown approaching the football that Lucy — aka our political leaders — is holding. We fully expect the ball to be pulled away at the last minute one more time.
Americans have experienced too many such painful events the last few years when it comes to hopes for responsible budget work. Perhaps that’s why they’re willing to accept the consequences of sequestration, however painful they may be, rather than look to politicians for leadership and be disappointed once more.