The Sequester Is a Republican-Inflicted Wound

The origin of this mess is absolutely clear. It was created by the Budget Control Act of 2011, the ransom Republican leaders received for agreeing to let the U.S. government pay its bills.

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KEVIN DIETSCH / UPI / Landov

Speaker of the House John Boehner leaves a press conference on sequestration on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 28, 2013.

The sequester is here, with an initial $85 billion worth of haphazard and economically destructive spending cuts, a Washington wound almost universally described as “self-inflicted.” Let’s be clearer: It’s Republican-inflicted. It is a direct result of the insistence by GOP leaders in the summer of 2011 that they would not raise the federal debt ceiling unless President Obama agreed to dramatic spending cuts. One can argue that the growth of the debt or the size of the government justified that insistence; I’d disagree. But it’s simply a fact that every budget crisis of the last two years—the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, the failure of the “supercommittee,” the fiscal cliff, and now this—stems from Republican debt-limit brinksmanship.

This is what makes all the Beltway back-and-forth about who came up with the sequester, and who moved which goalposts, and what Gene Sperling said to Bob Woodward, so annoying. The origin of this mess is absolutely clear. It was created by the Budget Control Act of 2011, the ransom Republican leaders received for agreeing to let the U.S. government pay its bills.

(MORE: The Sequester Fight Was the Pregame. Here Comes the Main Event)

Traditionally, the debt ceiling had been a symbolic cap, an opportunity for members of Congress in the minority party (including a certain Illinois Senator Barack Obama back in 2006) to grandstand about the fiscal irresponsibility of the majority party before the limit was increased. (In Obama’s semi-defense, the irresponsibility of tax-cutting, big-spending Republicans in the Bush era was truly breathtaking.) After their big congressional wins in the 2010 midterms, though, GOP leaders declared that the debt was out of control, so they would not raise the debt limit without an equivalent amount of spending cuts. They threatened to force the U.S. government into default—essentially, to crash the global economy—unless Obama accepted a massive rollback of the welfare state.

Let’s pause for a moment to discuss that threat. Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t really want the Treasury to default on its obligations; they just wanted to use the debt ceiling as a hostage to extract spending cuts as a ransom. But some new Tea Party congressmen genuinely welcomed a default, because, well, let’s be charitable and say they didn’t understand the catastrophic consequences. In any case, the threat was real. Republicans say the debt had become so outrageous that drastic measures were necessary to prevent us from becoming Greece. I’d just point out that markets didn’t agree; interest rates on Treasury bonds were historically low and getting lower, a measure of financial faith in U.S. credit. I’d also point out that the kind of austerity the Republicans were trying to impose on the U.S. led to double-dip recessions in Great Britain and Spain; recessions make fiscal problems worse because they increase spending on social services, while decreasing tax revenues from workers without jobs and companies without profits. It’s also worth noting that the deficit exploded under Bush and has declined under Obama; federal spending has actually increased at the lowest rate since the Eisenhower years.

(MORE: A Guide to Sequestration, the Bad Budget Policy We May Not Be Able to Avoid)

But whether or not Republicans were right to threaten to create a fiscal Armageddon if Obama didn’t agree to reduce the deficit—through spending cuts, not tax increases, and non-military spending cuts only—that’s what they did. Obama wanted a “clean” increase of the debt limit; the GOP wouldn’t give it to him. That’s why Standard & Poors downgraded the U.S. credit rating. Bondholders didn’t care about the debt ceiling when it was purely ceremonial, but now Republicans had dragged us into an era where we’d need to pass a bill through both houses of Congress just to pay our obligations. They had turned the debt ceiling into the fiscal equivalent of a bill requiring us to start a nuclear war every couple of years unless Washington could agree on an alternative foreign policy.

The political drama of 2011 was about whether we would default, or whether Obama could give Republicans enough of what they wanted to avoid a default. The president and Speaker Boehner tried to negotiate a Grand Bargain for $4 trillion in long-term deficit reduction, which would have taken the debt ceiling off the table for awhile, but they couldn’t. After their negotiations collapsed, Republicans continued to demand significant deficit reduction as their price for raising the debt ceiling, while refusing to include any new tax revenues in a smaller deal. Obama agreed to some cuts, but the GOP insisted on more. That’s when the White House suggested the sequester: $1.2 trillion in cuts that would be politically unpalatable to Republicans and Democrats, taking effect automatically in January 2013 unless a bipartisan “supercommittee” agreed on a better plan. The sequester was supposed to be so awful that it would force the two parties to come together to avoid it, which turned out to be wishful thinking.

(MORE: Does President Obama Really Believe in Deficit Reduction?)

The supercommittee failed. Obama comfortably won reelection, but not much has changed on Capitol Hill. January’s deal to avoid the instant austerity of the fiscal cliff—the expiration of the Bush tax cuts plus the sequester—merely punted the sequester to March. And that’s where we are, paying the ransom that Republicans demanded in the summer of 2011. Incredibly, Republicans (who overwhelmingly voted for the sequester) are now calling it the “Obamaquester,” like kidnappers claiming the ransom was their victim’s idea because he came up with the method of payment. If they really hate the sequester as much as they claim, they could always just cancel it—but of course, they don’t want to do that.

Incidentally, after enduring intense post-election criticism for their willingness to endanger the full faith and credit of the federal government, Republicans did agree to raise the debt ceiling for another three months in late January without demanding even more cuts. But they didn’t promise that they wouldn’t try to use it as leverage again. So even if Obama manages to work out some kind of deal with Republican leaders to undo the sequester, this entire cycle of budgetary insanity could begin again in May.

VIDEO: The Sequester Fight: TIME Explains

390 comments
JustusIselusive
JustusIselusive

Obama has stated in an interview HE was the one who orchestrated the sequester.  So before you try to write an article or blog, get your facts straight. obama stated from his own lips, he made the sequester and said it would never be used.  Just imagine if the Democraps had fiscal responsibility and quit spending lavishly? We would not have had to furlough anyone.

garydoan
garydoan

Ask a Democrat to explain the sequester. I have been and I'm getting the funniest answers you can imagine.

ChHoffman
ChHoffman

The sequester, like a really ugly baby, is something neither parent wishes to acknowledge. But even the most elementary DNA analysis shows that it has 2 parents, one half-black/half-white, one half-orange/half-grey-suit.

Pablod
Pablod

Facts?  What facts did you use Grunwald?
'The ransom that Republicans demanded' - it was Obama's idea you simpering ninny.  You are a reinvenionist, just like the bloviating blunderer who leads our nation.  If you can't spin it right the first time, spin it again.

ktanktan
ktanktan

When is Obama going to start governing and stop campaigning? He won the election. For the Obama administration here is the definition of govern:

1. To make and administer the public policy and affairs of; exercise sovereign authority in. 2. To control the speed or magnitude of; regulate 3. To control the actions or behavior of. 4. To exercise political authority.5. To exercise a deciding or determining influence on

I haven't seen any of this since he won. He's all about blaming and posturing 

We probably shouldn't be too surprised. He's never really accomplished anything of significance in his career.

grape_crush
grape_crush

Funny - Grunwald's tweet regarding this:

"Lots of anger about my biased post but nobody challenging facts"

If the facts favor one side of an argument, then is it really biased?

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

For those who wanted austerity, you got it.  And you're blaming Obama?  How does that work?

Pablod
Pablod

Your are full of it Mr. Grunwald.  Are you a journalist?  You sure don't write like one.  You write like a White House flunkey regurgitating Sperling's fallcacious spin.  He sure looked desparate on the talk shows yesterday.  It's a fact Mr. Grunwald that the White House came up with this absurd drama, and now the White House is trapped with a host of new spending plans and not a nickel to be found.  Our nation has had it with big time BS artists double-talking us into more wasteful, ill-advised spending couched as recovery.   Some recovery!  So now the First Spender is going to have to simmer down, stop whining and start running a government with finite resources.  We can rest assured Chicken Little Grunwald that you'll cook up some more alarmist banter, but while you and our President are trying to whip the nation into a frenzy, a lot of level headed Americans can be grateful for the system of checks and balances to stop you.


curt3rd
curt3rd

My first reaction to this article was it should be in the opion section, not politcal section.  However, as I read more, this should be in the fantasy section.  This writer lied and spun the truth in any direction that he wanted. 

tomsquawk
tomsquawk

Sorry, but today Jay "the kid" Carney blamed it on Reagan.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@Pablod I'm sorry can you remind us again of why Republicans held the country hostage over something as routine as a debt ceiling and lowered our credit rating in the process?

CameronBartholomew
CameronBartholomew

"If Democrats had been in the minority these past four years and had been as dogmatic about no spending cuts as Republicans have been about no revenue, the Washington establishment would have pilloried them. Instead, now, it’s somehow Obama’s fault that he hasn’t made Republicans see sweet reason." --Michael Tomasky

EXACTLY.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ktanktan When will the Republicans realize that he won and start working with him as the American people want them to do. All I see is lies and posturing and even the posturing seems half hearted, Elections have consequences. The American people have spoken. Its time for the Republicans to accommodate their wishes.

bobell
bobell

@grape_crush The facts are definitely biased -- in favor of Obama and the Demos.

SteveBeineke
SteveBeineke

@Hollywooddeed We have to have austerity.  Why?  Because everything obama does...doesn't work.  Although he is a very good liar...that works.

ktanktan
ktanktan

@HollywooddeedI think the sequester is a good start. Not the best way to govern but a start. We need the cuts and if Washington can't find a way to do it then a little pain for the American people may push us to elect politicians that will make difficult decisions. 

I'm sure if there was a slight gain in efficiency in government operations you could cut 10% of the budget. The problem is the government employees are not expected to operate efficiently. Low expectations = low performance

roknsteve
roknsteve

@Hollywooddeed Republicans think the sequester is good.  They says it's Pres. Obama's sequester so they must think he's good too.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Speaking of looking desperate on talks shows have you seen Boehner lately. He know that much like what happened when the Republicans pulled this shit with Clinton in 1994-1995 the public will take it out on them when their services start getting cut. Enjoy life in the dust bin of history. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of ghouls.



NP042
NP042

@curt3rd It is labeled "Viewpoint"


Reading is apparently too hard

mcjny
mcjny

@curt3rd lied? Wow. Are there any real posters here today? Is everybody an astroturfer operative. what nonsense lol.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd You should be in the Fantasy section since you still think the Republicans are a viable party after this fiasco.

ktanktan
ktanktan

@mantisdragon91 @Pablod If you disagree with a democrat you are "holding them hostage". If you disagree with a Republican you are following the will of the people. 

Republicans are following the will of the 47% of Americans that disapprove of Obama. They showed they were willing to negotiate on the budget last year. They were willing to approve tax increase if there were also cuts. Obama agreed to this concept at the beginning. Later he pulled the rug out from under the Republicans when he took cuts off the table and just wanted tax increases. Everyone knows he's a liar. Even Bob Woodward called him on this.

ktanktan
ktanktan

@mantisdragon91 @ktanktan Perhaps you should watch a little School House Rock and learn how the US government functions. Just because you are the president doesn't mean you get everything you want. You still have to lead and govern. That means making compromises and reaching out to the 47% of Americans that disapprove of your presidency. If you look at those paying taxes the number is more like 80% disapprove of the president. The Constitution doesn't give a winner take all scenario.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ktanktan @Hollywooddeed Oh a little pain will indeed provide incentive for  the American people to elect politicians who can make difficult decisions. Much as when Republicans pulled this stunt in 1995 get ready for an ass whopping in 2014

mcjny
mcjny

@RealThought @SteveBeineke  hope you're not holding your breath waiting for the astro turfer to "elaborate". The script doesn't have that section. Ever hear those work from home commercials in the morning and late night. What do you think those jobs entail? This is how you hire people to act crazy and unreasonable then call themselves republicans. IT's to fracture public cohesion. We must stand together as an electorate. This government is a fail. both sides. And we have to get that to the story. Not obama, not boehner but their joint failure. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ktanktan @mantisdragon91 @Pablod If you turn down $10 of cuts for $1 of revenue which the Republicans did than yes you are holding the debt ceiling hostage. And as for Bob Woodward I can provide volumes of links to his recent lies and misrepresentations.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

He is president because he is a better choice than any of the boobs Republicans presented us with. And if you don't think that going from a poor single parent home to the White House isn't a great accomplishment in itself than you are even denser than your posts suggest you to be.



ktanktan
ktanktan

@mantisdragon91 @ktanktan What has he accomplished? He graduated from college. Then he worked as a community activist? His stint in congress was full of great accomplishments. Come on. He's not president because he has a great record of achievements.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ktanktan @mantisdragon91 Yes Obama is a loser. He was handed everything came from a rich family and accomplished nothing with his life. Do you even realize how idiotic that statement sounds?

ktanktan
ktanktan

@mantisdragon91 @ktanktan You should write speeches for Obama. 4 years of being president and you are still looking backwards and blaming others. If this president could only look forward and do something proactive perhaps he would stop blaming and start leading. 

Let's face it, Obama is a loser. he has never accomplished anything in his life. His legacy will be one of blame and politicking. I was not a supporter of Bush but at least he didn't cry and blame everyone else for his mistakes.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ktanktan @mantisdragon91 So how exactly does one compromise with hostage takers? Last time I checked during a time of two wars and the worst financial crisis in our lifetime the Republicans clearly stated that their number one priority was not dealing with these events, but making Obama fail. Adding insult to injury was the fact that they were responsible for both wars and the financial meltdown.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd @mantisdragon91 You stated Liberals are always on the attack and I pointed out that it takes two to tango. See your side isn't exactly known for calm rational discourse.

curt3rd
curt3rd

@mantisdragon91 @curt3rd You realize that not a single person you just mention is actually a politician.  Yall are so scared of Limbaugh. You do know Limbaugh is a radio personality.

SteveBeineke
SteveBeineke

@mcjny @RealThought @SteveBeineke 
A better question is "what is true??  None of it...obama gambled and lost.  He figured they would cave...and they didn't.  So, now, when we find out the cuts in government growth don't really "hurt":at all...obama will look like the liar that he is.  He is already backtracking...but has his little pigs like j-nap crying hysteria with absolutely no basis....and she is getting reamed for it....and rightfully so.