In December, the Fiscal Cliff was the hot topic of discussion. People were very concerned about raising the United States' credit limit: Uncle Sam's credit cards were maxed out and he had bills coming due. What was he going to do? Congress, Uncle Sam's financial advisor, took a cue from the Buffalo Bills on fourth and long. They punted. Don't fear though, Congress will get the ball back to deal with the issue again in a couple of months, undoubtedly with far worse field position.
Now the impending sequester dominates the national conversation. Permit me to take leave for a moment to check trending search topics on Google. Okay, I'm back. Readers were riveted by the death of rapper Kenny Clutch, Prince Harry meeting girlfriend Cresida Bonas' parents and the NBA trade deadline.
So, my hunch was wrong. Sequester is not quite trending yet, but I have a feeling that it might be soon. And why not? Americans should love the sequester!
Sequestration is simple: it is the automatic cancellation of spending across the board if certain revenue objectives are not met. In its current iteration, as outlined in the Budget Control Act of 2011, a joint Congressional debt cutting committee of twelve must agree on cutting a certain amount from the deficit, or automatic cuts will take effect, with nearly half the cuts coming from the defense budget.
For 2013, the amount of sequester cuts is in the $100 billion range, occurring automatically and without discretion. Certain programs are exempted - like military salaries, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Program - so the remaining programs are hit harder than if it was truly across the board.
The reason that we have sequester is that Congress and the Presdient could not agree on a package that would control spending to increase our nation's debt more slowly. Not to decrease the debt - just to slow down its growth. Imagine going to the bank and saying "I need more loans, because I can't pay my current loans and I am still on a spending bender. But I'm not spending quite as much as I was." That kind of a loan application might have gotten a rubber stamp in the sub-prime days, but not anymore. Who knows, maybe it would be approved. But I do see bankruptcy in the near future of anyone who tries it.
The sequester idea was the result of long and difficult negotiations. Agreement could not be reached on how to slow down spending more money than the United States takes from you. The United States was approaching its debt ceiling. Doing nothing would have resulted in a government shutdown leading into an election year. That would not be good publicity for any incumbent. Because Congress could not come up with something mutually agreeable, President Obama suggested a novel approach: let's come up with something mutually disagreeable, where consequences of inaction are odious to everyone, and we'll have no choice but to work together to come up with something agreeable.
Except, now partisan Washington is not working together at all, least of all on avoiding the sequester.
It seems that as of today, the President seriously underestimated Congress's predilection to not act on issues. To his defense, he was only a United States Senator for four years before becoming President, with no prior executive experience. However, the long entrenched Senators and Beltway insider Representatives should have been keenly aware of the comfort they find being wrapped in the security blanket of inaction. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) called the cuts due to sequester, which she forgets to mention that she voted for, "thoughtless." President Obama said federal workers will be limited to less hours per week, and thus will have less money and will not be able to pay their bills (an argument, incidentally, he does not make while discussing tax increases).
Speaker of the House John Boehner says that the sequester was all President Obama's idea. The President, Senators and Representatives have spent the last week pointing fingers at each other, blaming each other for the events that will soon unfold. It is no wonder they have not had time come up with an alternative solution.
I think Sen. McCaskill, President Obama, Speaker Boehner and the rest of the architects of the sequester have the spin wrong on this issue. They should not be assigning blame; they should be accepting responsibility. They created this plan. They gave careful consideration to its consequences before they voted on it. They knew what they, as elected representatives, were capable of and what they were not. They knew automatic cuts imposed by sequester would attempt to reduce spending without forcing them to talk about it or make tough decisions.
Most of those who devised this deal and the supporting cast of 74 Senators, 269 Representatives are still in office. Congratulations! An informed voting population in America loves and appreciates you! Otherwise, you would no longer be in office. Right?
Your representatives are your voice in government. They are supposed to be responsive to you. Let them know how they are doing. Don't just thank them by re-electing them, send them a letter. I include some samples you may wish to use:
Dear President Obama: I am a shut-in senior. I am also a voter. I am writing today to let you know that I made the right choice in voting for you. I watched the inauguration on television. Beyonce was great! Who would that clown Romney have gotten to sing - Julianne Hough? I know that my Meals on Wheels will be cut as a result of the sequester, but I suppose I could take Mr. Biden's advice and fire off a few rounds from my porch and bag me a rabbit for lunch. Keep up the good work!
Dear Speaker Boehner: My son is currently stationed in Afghanistan. He is concerned about the upcoming severe cuts to the defense budget due to the sequester, for which you voted. I explained to him that this was a clever way to protect him. By not being able to properly equip him for combat, he cannot be sent into the field to fight America's enemies. Thus, he will be safer on the base than in the field. You can expect our continued support!
Dear Sen. McCaskill: I heard you describe the sequester cuts as "thoughtless" and theater. You should not be so hard on yourself; you knew what you were voting for. When the plan was passed, it was celebrated as what happens when the best minds get together to find a solution. I think you will come to see these minimal cuts do not address the real issues contributing to our massive spending problem. Please pay attention and have the wisdom to learn from it and the courage to propose real solutions. I voted for you in November. I would not have, but your opponent was kind of a whack job. If you do not take real steps now to fix our spending problem, I will not be voting for you six years from now. Don't just do the easy thing. Do the right thing.
Comments? Please email me at Peter.R.Livingston@gmail.com.