Sequestration. It’s a major topic of discussion in the news and on the internet. But, really, the discussions there focus on what the talking heads are saying. Frankly, many people just ignore talking heads now – or never really cared in the first place. So, I thought I would provide a bit of review. What is it? How did it come about? Note – during this discussion I will use a lot of words that have meanings different from their common dictionary meanings – ie. “cut”, which means “a reduction in the rate of planned growth,” in this context. I have attempted to indicate differently defined words in “quotation marks” when possible.
During the last debt ceiling “crisis,” the President and congressional Democrats demanded that the debt ceiling be raised without debate and without any conditions. The Republicans demanded that a debt ceiling increase be accompanied by offsetting spending “cuts” (see above). The Democrats countered that they would discuss spending “cuts” only if the Republicans agreed to tax increases on people earning incomes above some level (approx. $250,000 per year, but it fluctuated depending on the day and who was speaking).
Of course a “grand compromise” was reached in the nick of time and the following plan was hatched and passed:
- The debt ceiling was increased slightly in order to keep the credit card turned on at least until sometime in mid-2013.
- The Bush tax cuts would be allowed to expire at the end of 2012 for higher income earners, increasing their tax rates by about 2% (an unadvertised provision was also the sunset of the social security payroll tax holiday that raised EVERYONE’s taxes by about 2%). The Dems have dreamed and fantasized about this for ten years, and finally got it.
- To appease the Republicans, it was agreed that a bipartisan, bicameral “Super Committee” would be formed that would try to reach a future compromise on future budget cuts over the next ten years that would be binding, assuming they weren’t modified by future legislative action. This committee was to be composed of some of the most disagreeable members of both parties from both houses of Congress. They were to be locked in a room and not come out without budget cuts.
- If the Super Committee failed to reach an agreement (which was pretty much a foregone conclusion), then a “sequester” would kick in, forcing automatic budget “cuts.” The automatic budget “cuts” were designed to be to some of the most basic functions of the Federal Government – ie. Defense spending, and to programs that had some of the most visibly painful consequences if cut.
That’s where we are today. Of course, the Super Committee did nothing and proposed no cuts. Sequester kicks in on March 1. The very idea with sequester (which the President INSISTED be in the legislation) was that no politician would be able to abide by the sequester cuts and another deal would be reached doing away with the required cuts.
That may still happen. If it does, then last year’s debt ceiling “compromise” worked out just beautifully for the Democrats – and especially the President. Taxes were raised – publically on the “rich, but really on everybody; the debt ceiling was raised without much fanfare; and there were no spending “cuts.”
The glimmer of hope that we have here is that the Republicans in Congress SEEM to be OK with allowing sequester to happen as planned. Originally designed to specifically target spending that the Republican base holds dear, the thinking was that Republicans would come back to the table as sequestration loomed and eliminate the “cuts.” But they haven’t yet shown many signs that they are going to. That is precisely why we’ve heard such a drumbeat from the White House about how horrible the sequestration will be – teachers and firefighters will be fired, we will have to mothball the US Naval fleet, no Blue Angels airshows, closing down the National Parks, turning criminals out into the streets, children sick and dying without proper medical care, old people eating cat food. Every day brings a new dooms day scenario from the White Houses designed to get the Republicans to break under the public outcry against the apparent end to government spending as we know it.
But – It’s beginning to seem like the American people may be catching on. I may be wrong. I may be giving the public too much credit – they did reelect the cult of personality Barack Obama, the friendly face of Communism is America – but it seems like we’re not buying what he’s selling this time.
Then again – there is probably a pretty good chance that Boehner and the Republicans will cave again. They always do.