The Sequester: Wasting a Crisis

Both sides have found silver linings in letting the cuts kick in: Democrats can blame the Republicans for their intransigence, and Republicans can say they slashed government spending.

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JIM LO SCALZO / EPA

President Barack Obama, surrounded by emergency responders, urges Congressional action to prevent automatic spending cuts scheduled to begin on March 1, in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington D.C., on Feb. 19, 2013.

Standing in front of dozens of uniformed first responders, President Obama on Tuesday warned Congress that  “hundreds of thousands of people will lose their jobs if a March 1 sequester is allowed to take effect. Then he added, “The unemployment rate might tick up again.”

The event was the first in a series the President has planned this week calling on Congress to act. The conversation will be mostly one-sided as both chambers of Congress are in recess for President’s day, their members not planning to return to Washington until just three days before the deadline. Nevertheless, House Speaker John Boehner’s office was quick to respond to the President’s remarks. “Today the President advanced an argument Republicans have been making for a year: his sequester is the wrong way to cut spending.” Boehner said. “That’s why the House has twice passed legislation to replace it with common sense cuts and reforms that won’t threaten public safety, national security, or our economy.”

At stake is $85 billion in across-the-board, automatic spending cuts created back in 2011 as part of the debt ceiling deal. The cuts were meant to offset the amount the debt ceiling was being raised as demanded by Boehner. In 2012 a super committee tried but failed to come up with a more sensible way to enact the cuts – with a scalpel rather than a “meat cleaver,” as Obama put it on Tuesday. The cuts, which will force layoffs of hundreds of thousands of first responders, teachers, Pentagon and other Administration employees, were meant to take place January 1 but were delayed three months in order to give negotiators more time. With ten days left, time is now running out.

Both sides have approved plans to avoid the pain but neither party is ready to compromise with the other. The House Republican proposal redistributes the coming cuts to other areas of the government – areas like entitlements and education that Democrats are seeking to protect. The Senate Democratic plan avoids the cuts by closing certain loopholes — most of which affect businesses.  “So now Republicans in Congress face a simple choice: Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investments in education and health care and national security and all the jobs that depend on them?” Obama said, gesturing to the first responders behind him. “Or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations? That’s the choice.”

Republicans say the time for raising new revenue is past, in part because many Republicans agreed in the lame duck session to increase personal income tax rates for those who make more than $400,000 a year. “Just last month, the president got his higher taxes on the wealthy, and he’s already back for more,” Boehner said. “The American people understand that the revenue debate is now closed.”

So, for the fifth time in two years, the world economy and Washington are all taking their place on the brink of dysfunction. Only, this time both sides believe the sequester will take effect — at least for a few weeks.  Both sides have found silver linings in letting the cuts kick in: Democrats can blame the Republicans for their intransigence, as Obama will be doing all week, and many believe the sequester could cost Boehner the House in 2014 given the number of vulnerable Republicans in districts that are reliant on defense contracts for jobs.  Republicans, looking over their shoulders at Tea Party primaries, can say they slashed government spending and stood up to Obama.

And in any case, another cliff is just down the road. On March 27 funding for the federal government runs out, lining both sides up for a potential government shutdown. Whatever deal is forced out of those negotiations, most people expect will include some mitigation of the worst of the sequester’s effects.

Washington has so many crises stacked up that both sides have the room to let this crisis happen and then unwind its most severe effects when the next one appears.

51 comments
CindiRusak
CindiRusak

lets stop rep. salary march 1st and see how fast the problem is solved


Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

The revenue debate is NOT closed.  Many unnecessary and wasteful loopholes for the super wealthy and corporations can be closed.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Jay. With all the recent close calls to doom (the various cliffs, etc.) I wonder how many in Congress - especially the R's -  remember the last real crisis that took place - the '95 - 96 shutdown. That didn't turn out so well for the R's, so naturally they wish to repeat it!?

shaysite
shaysite

“Both sides have approved plans to avoid the pain but neither party is ready to compromise with the other.”

There Small(and her colleagues) go again with the false equivalence/appeal to moderation fallacy. This statement is false, because the president and others in his party have already agreed to many budget cuts, that they would prefer not to support. It could only be true if they were insisting on balancing the budget entirely with tax increases, without any cuts at all (something they’ve never even proposed)

It is only an accurate characterization of the GOP position-which has been and remains that they will only support balancing the budget based solely on cuts.

To the media that keeps insisting on false equivalency: You don’t look more astute by always insisting that neither side in a dispute is right. You look vapid, nihilistic, unprincipled and just plain stupid.

caffine_cigs
caffine_cigs

its time to dismantel Washington, DC & start over~ @TIME @TIMEPolitics

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

"A great civilization is not conquered from without, until it has destroyed itself from within. The essential causes of Rome's decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars."

- Will Durant, The Story Of Civilization III, Epilogue, 1944

EuoeaoK
EuoeaoK

@TIME @TIMEPolitics When is Washington NOT sitting on there hands?

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

Th Republicans idea of compromise is do it their way.  Well, folks, that isn't the definition of "ompromise" If they want the sequester (and it was a Republican idea, not thhpresident's), start with dropping thhTSA checkers at both National and Dulles to one per shift and eliminate the by-pass for high level government executives and members of Congress.  Let them get in line with some of the people that they are screwing with.  Should be interesting conversations.

'You can take all of the sequester out of Defense and still be spending multiples of what was budgeted in 2003.  The Republicans aren't willing to even think about the half that Defense should get but want to take it all out of the rest.  Social Security and Medicare DIDN'T cause the deficit and it was caused by tax cuts which weren't needed and since the "job creators" didn't actually create one job, they should have to pay it all back with interest.  Change Social Secuirty and Medicare tax structures so they apply to all income and get rid of that idiotic "carried interest"gift to Wall Street and tax all income at the existing rates.  Business socialism should be eliminated by cutting the gifts to the oil industry that doesn't pay any taxes anyway and agriculture.  Go through every give-away tax credit but if a business can't make it without taking taxpayer money, maybe they shouldn't be in business.

tom.litton
tom.litton

How about this as a compromise:  No new revenue, but allow Obama and the democrats to specify all of the cuts.

MikeKunzman
MikeKunzman

An $85 billion cut out of a $3.8 trillion total (2.2%) is not going to drastically harm anyone.  This is still $120 billion more in spending than in 2011.  We'll be ok, calm down.

This is equivalent to telling a family making $50k a year to cut $100 a month from their budget.  

fitty_three
fitty_three

The GOP is really going to take it on the chin here.  I watched our own Channel 5 which leans GOP and even they couldn't cover the news without introducing some GOP self-implication.

I hope we don't have to go through it, but if the GOP won't move, they are going to get the blame.

They just threw out Simpson Bowles because they want to keep tax perks for the rich. I don't think it's going to sell very well at all.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

There is no crisis. Congress could simply pass a bill that says "the sequester is cancelled" and we can be confident that Obama would sign it. The only crisis is that Republicans insist on attacking the wrong problem at the wrong time because they only know one song.

bobell
bobell

"Washington has so many crises stacked up ..." that they're going to collapse and kill us all.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

A) I thought it was agreed to hike the tax on those who make > $400K/year.

B) I don't think this is what was meant by crisis management.

MrObvious
MrObvious

 So, for the fifth time in two years, the world economy and Washington are all taking their place on the brink of dysfunction.

Democrats can blame the Republicans for their intransigence, as Obama will be doing all week, and many believe the sequester could cost Boehner the House in 2014 given the number of vulnerable Republicans in districts that are reliant on defense contracts for jobs.  Republicans, looking over their shoulders at Tea Party primaries, can say they slashed government spending and stood up to Obama.

Except the Dems have tried to do something about which would solve it for now whereas GOP in good ol' do nuthin' fashion insist on cuttin' only. So maybe the Dems ability to use it in 2014 is an artifact of this but it's certainly not the clever trap. GOP doing nuthin' and saying that they fought the good fight IS the entire plan.
Just like with the 11th hour cliff solution GOP will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing their jobs 'cause they can't be bothered with trivial stuff like that when there's plenty of time to act.

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

@tom.litton How about if the repubs publicize a detailed specific plan.  If they want cuts, let us know specifically where.

tomsquawk
tomsquawk

@tom.litton didn't Obama, as a campaign promise, promise to go through each line of the budget we don't have?

BobJan
BobJan

@tom.litton how about this as a compromise. Paul Ryan, John Boehner and Rand Paul all quit. And how about this Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell all quit. Then all the rest should just quit too. Here's a better idea, let's just fire the whole Congress. Is there anyone out there in blog land that can actually recommend 1 (one) person in Congress that actually deserves to keep their job? It would be interesting to see if anyone who dislikes democrats recommend 1 republican and vice versa. 

fitty_three
fitty_three

@tom.litton 

I got a better idea:

Why don't you stop defending tax loopholes for the extra rich.

That is, unless you insist on us having to pay the price just to preserve some guy's yacht that we'll never meet.

BobJan
BobJan

@MikeKunzman Fixing the tax code would go a long way towards fixing just about everything. Taking away tax breaks for company jets isn't going to make the company sell the jet. Taking away tax breaks for the company to maintain a condo in Florida isn't going to make the company sell the condo. They need to stop the tax breaks for stuff that really doesn't concern or effect the business. Keep the tax breaks for equipment and expansions. End the tax breaks for moving machinery overseas. Congress has taken their eye off the ball on purpose. They are just plain and simple beholden to the wealthy.

GetofftheBS
GetofftheBS

Mike, I am not sure that I agree with you. Though in good times a $100 a month may not mean a whole lot, to many today a $100 a month is the diference between eating or not. Additionally, even though I realize that budgets cuts are necessary, I don't think that the proposed cuts are the cuts that they should be making.

Publisher of Get off the BS

tom.litton
tom.litton

@MikeKunzman The issue i think isn't so much the amount, but the lack of planning for it.  It after all was designed to never happen. 

It's more like telling a family on an already tight budget to cut $100 a month in the middle of the month, when most of their obligations are already spoken for.

GetofftheBS
GetofftheBS

I sometimes wonder if they are all just sitting around smoking crack all day.   I wonder if they get bonuses for being incompetent? 

bobcn
bobcn

@PaulDirks

"Congress could simply pass a bill that says "the sequester is cancelled" and we can be confident that Obama would sign it."

This is the single most important comment in this thread.  

I wish journalists would spend less time indulging the gopers need to blame Obama for 'having the idea' of the sequester and more time pressing them on why they don't merely cancel it.  Rather than playing the blame game for the damage that will be caused -- challenge them to just not do the damage.

JNSmall
JNSmall moderator

@nflfoghorn You're right. It was $00k instead of $250k. I updated. Thanks.JNS

AfGuy
AfGuy

@nflfoghorn 

If it means that we always "manage" to have a "crisis", it makes perfectly good sense...

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

I guess an even more obvious question is why the all left town rather than work.  Oh, I just answered my question. If any of these idiots were actually working for a busienss, they would have been fired long ago for performance,  absenteeism, and gross stupidity.

tom.litton
tom.litton

@Leftcoastrocky @tom.litton Yes they should. 

I have long since realized they don't care about deficits.  They care about tax cuts for the wealthy (at least they care more about tax cuts than the deficit). 

However, i still think it's an interesting question. Why wouldn't this give republicans the power to reduce the deficits and democrats the power to protect needed government services, which is what the at least say they both care about?

tomsquawk
tomsquawk

@BobJan @tom.litton good idea. what we have here is the pot calling the kettle black and everyone worrying about keeping their jobs to the detriment of this country. think we need to institute a draft of likley citizens to serve in Congress

tom.litton
tom.litton

@53_3 @tom.litton I have an even better idea.  Why not contribute to the conversation and stop being an ass.


Seriously, your not doing yourself or anyone else any favors.

GetofftheBS
GetofftheBS

Bob I agree.  I have a simple fix for the U.S. tax code.  Throw it out the door.  Revision is real simple, everyone pay same percentage, whatever it may be, of what they earn.  I also agree with your statement that congress is 'beholden to the wealthy.'  The term for that is called 'Crony capitalism.'  I wrote an article on it that is pretty good.  http://getoffthebs.com/is-america-the-land-of-democracy-or-the-land-of-a-dictatorship/

Publisher of Get off the BS

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

The problem isn't the percentage but that it is directed at every line item so ones that are essential get the same treatment as the House cafeteria.  You wouldn't run your home like that (pay all but 2.3% of your electric bill or house note?).

bobcn
bobcn

@tom.litton @MikeKunzman 

That's precisely what's so dangerous about it.  The cuts can't be directed to minimize the damage.

The analogy I use is similar to yours:  Imagine being forced to reduce the family budget across-the-board.  Everything has to be cut -- including meals.  As a result you're forced to skip feeding your baby for a few days during the year.

Yes, that would be crazy.  But the sequester's crazy.  The law doesn't allow for reasonable decision making, targeted allocations, or alternatives.  

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@bobcn @PaulDirks  It's also the most prescient. Like Bechtel and Boeing are going to let these idiots do their Kabuki to the final curtain.

tom.litton
tom.litton

@tomsquawk @tom.litton The last one is from the white house itself.  So it's dressed up quite a bit.  However, you made 2 different accusations.   Hence the 2 different links.  One says he did go through the budget for earmarks (sort of).  The other is his current budget.

You may not like either, but saying he doesn't have a budget you like isn't the same as saying he doesn't have a budget at all.  

You can say the senate hasn't passed a budget, but it's tough to get a budget through with the filibuster, and ends up being a waste of time if it isn't negotiated with the house. I still say they should pass a budget though.

tomsquawk
tomsquawk

@AfGuy @tomsquawk @BobJan @tom.litton i had the to opportunity to work in Wash. D.C. and it was an education. not enough to do and alot of wasted time. my co-workers assured me that this was Wash. D.C. and that i would get used to it. what a riode.

AfGuy
AfGuy

@tomsquawk @BobJan @tom.litton 

The ONLY ones that are right for the job don't want anything to do with the circus in DC, being infected with a certain degree of morality and integrity. 

The ones that you want to keep as far away from the place as possible are the ones absolutely chomping at the bit to get there.

tom.litton
tom.litton

@53_3 @tom.litton The infuriating part of this conversation is that we agree on a great deal of things.  If you don't believe me then click on my name and look at my previous comments on other articles.

Yet rather than thinking about what people say, you simply attack.  

Your worse than the tea party republicans.  At least they have a legitimate disagreement.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@tom.litton

That wasn't a question.  Look at your comment again.  BTW, you ARE a tebagger, ringer.

And again, the truth isn't relative.

tom.litton
tom.litton

@53_3 @tom.litton Only in your paranoid mind does asking a question constitute an attack.  

Your view of reality is almost as warped as the tea party.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@tom.litton

You attacked Obama with no less than I attacked you.

And besides, the truth isn't relative.  The GOP does NOT want to close loopholes for the rich.

Live with it.

tom.litton
tom.litton

@53_3 @tom.litton Reacting to anything even slightly outside your version of "the truth" without even taking the effort to think first says more about your opinions than mine. 

Why just attack anyone that strays even slightly away from what you believe is correct?

fitty_three
fitty_three

@tom.litton

What?

Seems to me that you're fine with the middle class taking up the burden. 

Thanks for letting us know.