The Times West Virginian

March 3, 2013

Sequestration: American people have right to be ‘damned irritated’

Times West Virginian

— As if the American public needed it, they got another example of how bad the political climate is in Washington, D.C.

Across-the-board budget cuts of $1.2 trillion over 10 years, known as sequestration, went into effect on Friday. The concept, put together in the summer of 2011, was designed to be so distasteful that it would force a compromise between Democrats and Republicans on attacking the nation’s debt problem.

It didn’t happen.

“It will fall like an axe, with no priorities, no nothing. The people will be damned irritated,” Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, was quoted by Marketplace. He has been trying with Democratic colleague Erskine Bowles to forge a political compromise on spending and taxes, but their ideas have drawn praise in some quarters but no real political traction.

“It’s not hard to come up with something better, yet all efforts to do so went down the toilet for various reasons,” economist Bruce Bartlett, who held economic posts in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, told The Associated Press.

“And I think people didn’t realize how wedded Republicans are to not raising taxes.”

The first round of cuts will be about $85 billion for this fiscal year. The arguments has been made that the sequester may stall the still-fragile economic recovery and cost jobs, but that hasn’t brought the political parties any closer to a compromise.

The sides were making their cases on Saturday.

“As a nation, we’ve already fought back from the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, and we’ll get through this, too,” President Barack Obama said in his weekly address. “But at a time when our businesses are finally gaining some traction, hiring new workers, bringing jobs back to America – the last thing Washington should do is to get in their way. That’s what these cuts to education, research and defense will do. It’s unnecessary. And at a time when too many of our friends and neighbors are still looking for work, it’s inexcusable.”

Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., responded that “this debate is about more than just numbers and politics. It’s about the kind of future we want for our children and grandchildren. Do we want to hand them a mountain of debt and all the worries that go with it, or do we want them to inherit a vibrant economy and a future full of opportunity? This is the debate we’ve been having for quite a while, and it’s time we resolve it and get something done.”

Both sides make legitimate points.

Budget-trimming, a Republican priority, must be done. The Republican-controlled House passed bills dealing with budget cuts last year, but they received little or no Democratic support and were never taken up by the Senate.

The reality is that cuts must be a part of the path ahead and that entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare must be addressed — not to take them away but to make them sustainable.

Democrats are right in that revenue should not be off the table. True, tax rates for the wealthy were increased in the January “fiscal cliff” deal, but talk now is not of raising rates but of closing loopholes.

House Speaker John Boehner said that “Obama and Senate Democrats are demanding more tax hikes to fuel more ‘stimulus’ spending.” It’s a false argument. That would require approval of Congress and has no chance of passage.

No one is going to be totally satisfied when a deal is eventually worked out to end sequestration.

A compromise, though, is preferable to the current situation. The United States can neither tax nor cut its way to prosperity. A strong economy is the only way the deficit can be reduced in a significant way, and sequestration is an obstacle in this quest the country can’t afford.