Sequester takes us to uncharted territory

Politicians ready for high-stakes gamble

By The Mercury

Spending cuts of 2.3 percent shouldn’t spark a crisis in the United States — not in the Defense Department, not in the Department of Health and Human Services, not in any of the multitude of programs and services the federal government provides.

That’s the Republican mantra this week. It’s been uttered by Manhattan’s former congressional representative, Lynn Jenkins, and it’s been written by George Will, a distinguished conservative columnist. Trouble is, that 2.3 percent is misleading, as individuals to be furloughed — and take 20 percent pay cuts — know well.

One might think, given House Speaker John Boehner’s denunciation of the U.S. Senate, President Barack Obama and the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to release certain illegal immigrants to save money, that this crisis, as Mr. Will argued in a column Tuesday, really is manufactured — and that its being manufactured by liberals.

Mr. Will has a point… to a point. This week’s sequester showdown is being manufactured, but Democrats could not have done it alone. They’re not that smart and they don’t have that much power. They couldn’t even get Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense through the Senate until after Republicans who wanted to huff and puff got their opportunity.

Republicans call this “President Obama’s sequester” as if they had no part in it. And they champion a spending-cuts-only approach, perhaps convinced that the budget can be balanced without further revenue increases and perhaps aware that most of the individuals to be hurt by domestic cuts don’t vote or wouldn’t vote for them and therefore don’t matter much.

They’re happy to criticize President Obama for warning Americans that the sky is about to fall and to take issue with the cuts his Cabinet secretaries are planning while defending their stance as the only responsible position. Maybe the comfort level members of Congress from both parties enjoy was enough to justify their recently taking a week off as the sequester deadline loomed.

The sequester, which will be triggered Friday, appears imminent now. That’s largely because both sides wasted opportunities while playing to constituents back home, as has been the governing style in recent years.

We don’t know how severely Americans will be affected. Maybe this sequester will send us down Greece’s road. Maybe it will be a detour to greater prosperity. If history is much of a guide, the folks who already are prospering will be the least affected while the most vulnerable will take their customary place at the end of the line.

Maybe the potential impact has been exaggerated as uncertainty has fueled worst-case scenarios. The sun will rise the morning after the sequester deadline. What’s less certain is how brightly it will shine.

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