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Lawmakers Benefit from Keeping Voters in the Dark on Important Issues

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

Sequestration is the term used to describe automatic, across-the-board spending cuts the federal government implements in order to deal with annual deficits. These cuts are usually based on a set percentage of the annual budget and indiscriminately cut from all federal programs, projects, and activities under the U.S. budget, and whatever effect those cuts have is inconsequential to the process.

The most recent example of sequestration was passed during a debt ceiling agreement between congressional Republicans, Senate Democrats, and President Obama in 2011. Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, sequestration was used to encourage -- perhaps pressure would be a more appropriate word -- Congress to agree on a way to cut annual deficits by $1.2 trillion by the end of 2012.

However, the "bipartisan" super Congress made up of twelve members of both chambers of Congress couldn't compromise on a solution before the deadline. It is a big example of how a bipartisan make up to a committee, just for the sake of calling it bipartisan, can result in more gridlock.

Unfortunately, because of the lack of information presented to the American public about what sequestration is, approximately half of the American public will say they do not know enough about the automatic spending cuts that took effect in March to have an opinion on whether it was good or bad for the country -- according to a recent poll by Gallup.

Some may be quick to call these people 'uninformed citizens.' However, one should exercise restraint before throwing around this label.

During the ongoing debates over sequestration, the only thing Americans got to hear was who was to blame. That is all lawmakers cared about: not informing the American people, but trying to convince the public that their political opponents were responsible for the problem. Lawmakers put on political theater and the mainstream media showcased it.

For some lawmakers, the biggest concern is not the American people -- making sure their needs are met and providing the transparency required to keep constituents informed on what is going on in Washington -- but the next election or just saving face.

One may argue that in the digital age we live in, it is the responsibility of the individual to ensure they remain informed on any given issue because there are so many resources available to them that can be accessed near instantaneously. There is a valid point in this argument, but as mentioned in a previous article, it is easier said than done.

To some degree, yes, people need to take personal responsibility for how informed they are and remain. However, we must remember two things: (1) Studies suggest a majority of Americans continue to rely on TV news to stay informed. (2) Greater accessibility to information means that people have a greater ability to find the right information... and the wrong information.

Relying on information on the Internet can be worse than relying solely on TV news in the modern era to stay informed. On top of the obstacles that are in the way of being an "informed citizen," this can be the most dangerous.

On Facebook, someone left a status update about how the Amash amendment regarding the NSA surveillance program was going to defund the entire NSA, which is incorrect. When it was brought to the person's attention that the Amash amendment would only limit funding to certain surveillance programs, the response was that it was not what he read. Unreliable information on the Internet spreads like wildfire on dry grass.

Many people have plenty of daily obligations and responsibilities that take up time and resources, which leaves little of both to devote to searching through all the noise and talk on the Internet to find the most reliable source on any given topic.

Unless a person works in a job dealing with public policy, it is highly unlikely that most people can truly say they are informed because issues like sequestration, if talked about at all in the mainstream media, are reduced to the same partisan talking points that are thrown back-and-forth on Capitol Hill.

These talking points keep a politician's primary voting base happy. While it may not please a majority of the electorate, securing a victory in many states means securing a victory in the primary which consequentially means they only need to rely on this smaller percentage of voters.

Congress and the president are about to square off again in a fight over the debt ceiling and ensuring the federal government remains funded after September 30. The consequences of this debate are yet to be seen, but it is almost a guarantee that many members of Congress will only have one thing on their minds: 2014.

Photo Credit: trekandshoot /

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