Congress should quit playing politics and starting working on behalf of the nation
Have Republicans learned to love the sequester? All signs indicate that while plenty of House GOP members blanche at the way the automatic spending cuts hit the defense budget and other discretionary spending, they may be willing to hold their noses and let the cuts take effect on March 1.
They’re banking that the destructive spending cuts will stall the economic recovery occuring under President Obama long enough to help them win control of Congress and, eventually, the presidency.
It’s a dangerous and cynical gamble. The Congressional Budget Office said that sequestration could cost more than one million jobs and send the country into another recession.
Jeffrey Zeints, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, estimates the cuts would leave 16,000 teachers out of jobs, prevent 700,000 women and children from receiving nutrition assistance and leave 100,000 children out of the Head Start program.
The cuts don’t just impact public programs. Economists estimate that if non-defense sequestration goes into effect, professional and technical services would lose $600 billion in sales, the manufacturing sector would lose $400 billion, and finance and insurance services would lose close to $400 billion over the next 10 years alone. In 2013, every American worker would lose up to $750 in income and a family of four would see its income reduced as much as $1,800.
The irony is that sequestration was supposed to be so horrible that Congress would never let it happen. It was designed as a stick to force Congress to reach an agreement on how to resolve the nation’s deficit spending.
But the brain trust behind sequestration failed to appreciate the stubbornness of the Tea Party Republicans and their willingness to put ideology, and the interests of the wealthy, ahead of the country as a whole. The warning signs were there in the past with party members’ foolish refusal to raise the debt ceiling. Even the beginning of the year was marked by a battle of wills that threatened the nation’s economy by triggering across-the-board tax increases.
Republicans have already tipped their hand as to their motives, attempting to brand sequestration as a creation of Obama. While his staff did propose the idea as way to break a logjam in budget discussions, Republicans willingly embraced it. In fact, Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan called it a victory of bipartisanship and a welcome change in Congress’ culture.
The public is unlikely to buy into the GOP’s story line. Several polls released since last November’s election show Republicans would get the bulk of the blame for the fiscal crisis and it will provide the Democrats with more evidence that the GOP is unable to govern sensibly. Some Democrats have predicted it could win them another 10 seats in the next Congressional elections.
It’s troubling that both parties spend more time calculating the political fallout of their various positions, and so precious little time conducting the important business of the country. Both sides need to shelve the politics for now and work on crafting a compromise that prevents sequestration, and the economic downturn that will inevitably follow. The president has asked Congress to use an approach that balances responsible spending cuts with new revenue, generated by steps such as closing tax loopholes that benefit a privileged few. It’s a reasonable request.
Some have suggested other options including a mini-deal to buy more time before sequestration takes effect. But the preferred approach would be to work now to address the country’s fiscal challenges in a way that recognizes both the need for long-run sustainability and the fragility of the nation’s economic recovery. Doing that sooner rather than later would reduce uncertainty and boost household and business confidence.
Instead of worrying about who will be in charge two years from now, it’s time for Congress to focus on the present and work on restoring the nation’s economy for the long term.