Sequester brings crisis fatigue

Scream! Make that, primal scream!! Washington’s failure to deal with the sequester before it kicked in is just the latest in a series of failed attempts to deal responsibly with federal deficit and budget issues.  So bad are the constant failures and so great the frustrations with Republicans, Democrats and the White House that I find myself agreeing with former Senator John Sununu’s op ed in Monday’s Boston GlobeReally, has it come to this?

Sununu’s point is that the players are all talking past each other, much like the nonsense in the Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First?”  Both sides of the aisle agree on the need to cut spending and decry the “dumb” or “silly” sequestration road to reducing the deficit. It seems only logical that they could find two percent of budget cuts in different programs, but no one is willing to enter into the sustained and meaningful negotiation necessary to wield a scalpel rather than a meat axe.  Maybe both sides privately wanted this debt reduction outcome to avoid having to accept responsibility for making the hard choices.

The Republicans want to cut entitlements and not close tax loopholes (though they previously had been for such tax reform.) The President has in the past been willing to modify Medicare and Social Security. But he won’t move on those until the GOP agrees to significant closing of tax loopholes and eliminating deductions.  The President – possibly reinforced by a Pew Research study showing that fully 76 percent of the American people want a combination of cuts and taxes – may be right on philosophy, but his strategy is lacking.

A week ago they all left town, Congress to vacation and the President to play golf with Tiger Woods. The Republicans now want the President to go with a plan to shift money from one account to another within the sequestration cap. (The Wall St. Journal says that power already exists.) Not only has the President not yet seemed inclined to do that, but Administration spokesmen have been exaggerating some examples of sequestration impacts (immediate cuts of first responders, teachers, flight delays, national security.) Now the White House allows as how maybe the dire fallout won’t happen right away.  Crying wolf ultimately weakens support for his position. 

The President’s approval ratings are at a three-year high. But how long can that last? Crisis could worsen at the end of this month with government’s need to extend routine funding (continuing resolution) and keep a round of severe cuts (e.g., defense, unemployment benefits, airport security) from kicking in.

Their failure to act is surely this year’s March Madness.  Real people will indeed start feeling the pain on April 1st. Unfortunately, the next opportunity for a comprehensive solution could be, at best, at the end of the fiscal year on September 30th. And that portends a long hot summer.

As Sununu reminded us yesterday, the President needs 218 votes in the House and 60 in the Senate for anything, and that will take work on the part of everyone.  If they fail to reach a grand bargain, including tax reform and entitlement modification,  then their salaries and pensions should be cut by the same percentage as the sequestration is imposing.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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