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The Sequester: The Latest Fiscal Battle

by Brandon Fallon, published

Stephen VanHorn / Stephen VanHorn /

Whenever a budget is proposed in Congress, there is naturally a debate over what to trim from the proposal and what to add to it. In recent years, that debate has reached new partisan heights and an ideological battle has erupted over what services are necessary and what agencies could be gutted.

There was the debt ceiling fight to determine how much the U.S. government could ultimately borrow to meet its own obligations. There was the fight over tax increases when the Bush tax cuts were set to expire.

The threat of a government shutdown was brought up several times in recent years as a result of failing to agree on annual budgets. Continuing resolutions and other piecemeal, stopgap measures were implemented to assure the public that government will continue to operate.

These fiscal disasters are now cyclic as negotiations arise every few months only to have the can kicked down the road. Now, in these budget wars, sequestration is the new battle.

Sequestration, or across-the-board spending cuts, was developed as a way to break up a deadlocked Congress during the 2011 debt ceiling debate. As a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, both Democrats and Republicans agreed to draconian discretionary budget cuts. These cuts were to take effect in the near future unless a comprehensive, long-term budget deal was enacted.

The super committee that the act also created to solve the problem failed in its task, thereby adding to the likelihood that the sequester would happen. To compound the problem, these severe budget cuts were to take effect in the end of 2012, just as the Bush tax cuts were to expire. This became known as the fiscal cliff.

In the end of the fiscal cliff negotiations, Congress pushed the sequester deadline to March 1, 2013, in favor of tax increases on the wealthy which will raise $600 billion in revenue over the next decade. Now, both sides are back to the negotiating table to discuss the sequester once more.

The discussion quickly turned into a blame game when it is obvious that whatever does get through Congress and onto the president’s desk requires votes from both sides and the president's signature.

For example, the fiscal cliff deal passed with votes of 89-8 and 257-167 in the Senate and House, respectively. The logic behind the sequester was for both sides to agree to an alternative solution other than across-the-board spending cuts that will strongly affect everybody who relies on government, from the unemployed to military contractors.

When a solution arises that neither side really wants, both parties deserve to be blamed for what ensues.

Democrats and Republicans have their own sacred cows they feel obligated to defend. In doing so, they are both trying to find a solution that spares the proverbial bovines.

Republicans want to preserve the defense budget. Democrats wish to mitigate the Republicans’ efforts to transfer some of the cuts to entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicaid.

The sequester was a gimmick attached to the Budget Control Act as a way to force both parties to reach a compromise further down the road. It was never the lawmakers' intention to have it implemented.

The goal was to avert it sooner rather than later, and now the deadline is fast approaching... again. It is pointless to argue who caused this to happen as so many bipartisan congressional committees either failed to act or weren't taken seriously.

Over the last several weeks, President Obama has urged constituents to contact their congressional representatives and tell them how the sequester will hurt them. It is as if the president is promoting grassroots social activism such as The Can Kicks Back and the Campaign to Fix the Debt.

The people are the ones who elected Congress and it is up to the people to intervene and try to work out a solution.

It appears recent negotiations only went half-way to a solution, while the missing halves continue to be compounded. Although the sequestration deadline now stands on March 1, the grand bargain debt deal that both sides have been dreaming about appears to be a much longer wait.

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