Today’s Courier Herald Column:
This week’s news out of Washington will be filled with talk of “Sequestration”. It is the latest manufactured crisis du jour to ensure Americans who pay little attention to politics and national finances have a headline term to add to their vocabulary to affirm to themselves that they follow politics.
Those that have been paying attention will note that the money that is to be cut from the federal budget is actually savings that have already been claimed by both Republicans and Democrats when they talk of past efforts to reduce the deficit – though both have been quite complicit in ensuring that no monies have actually been reserved to stay in federal coffers.
Sequestration was the construct of the President and the Congress who were seeking to maintain stalemate until the 2012 elections could solve the direction of the country and its fiscal finances. With the election results giving the country a leadership framework of the status quo, both parties now seek to figure out how to create a path forward that allows their principles to win while not having to eat past rhetoric that doesn’t match the current facts or situation.
Perhaps the best analysis of what we will here this week comes from former Macon Telegraph reporter Travis Fain – now of North Carolina – who tweeted “Few things explain DC paralysis better than leaders arguing over who gets the blame for something they could still prevent.” Such is the state of Washington politics these days. The public that is willing to pay attention to these games is so distracted by partisan divide that we are willing to look past the actual facts of the present to project scorn on to the results of the future.
Instead, it is time to take a deep breath and look at where we are, and where we are headed without a change not only in course but in outlook. The sequestration is scheduled to cut $85 billion out of a proposed $3.7 trillion federal spending for 2013. It’s incorrect to call this a budget because the President no longer cares about submitting one and the Senate won’t even spend time to mark one up.
If they were to spend time on these things, then surely $85 billion of cuts could be found by reducing the least priority spending items. Instead, we are forced to watch yet another exercise in bureaucratic self-defense while agencies trot out sacrificial lambs to demonstrate how the public will virtually cease to be able to interact with their government if the beast is not fed its ever increasing appetite.
More troubling is the change in rhetoric of the current fiscal climate. The president and his Democratic party who spent the entire campaign chiding Republicans for not willing to accept just small amounts of increased tax revenue in exchange for cuts of 2 to 10 times the revenue raised are now not only unwilling to put serious entitlement reform on the table, but appear to not want to cut any area of discretionary spending either. Their position appears to be that current budget deficits are sustainable – and should even be expanded with new spending.
Republicans, for their part, are demonstrating that it’s easy to talk about cutting a budget but much harder to do so. The reality of their position is they aren’t looking for real cuts, but appear to be settling into a strategy of reducing the rate of growth of government rather than cutting government.
This isn’t unique. Instead, it seems to be more of the classic former battle we had during the 1990’s when Democrats changed the language from “tax and spend” to “investing in the future”, and Republicans were labeled obstructionists for shutting the government down when in reality no one ever missed a check from any form of government program or contract.
For all the gnashing of teeth during that era – including the unwise distraction of trying to impeach a President without bipartisan support – the gridlock ended up working. Government spending flatlined while the economy eventually grew, raising the revenues to close the budget gap.
Those paying attention to the sequestration game looking for a dramatic ending should move along. The “cuts” lack significant size to make a dent in the overall economic picture. Instead, holding firm may not fix the deficit problem, but can lead to at least some form of containment while the economy, independent of Washington’s “solution”, fixes itself.