Published February 19 2013
Forum editorial: Where are they? On a breakThe sequestration the president and Congress put into law a couple of years ago is only days away from going into effect. The consequences for the economy and individual Americans will be significant.
And where are national leaders?
President Barack Obama is vacationing in Hawaii, getting in a few rounds of golf with Tiger Woods. Maybe the president is advising the golfing superstar about marriage and personal relationships.
Congress is on a break so its members can be home to sing their praises to constituents. That won’t sell because the latest job approval ratings of Congress hardly tickle double digits. Still, members of the House and Senate know the home folks like their congressmen and senators, even as they dislike Congress. It’s a puzzle. After all, the parts make up the whole, and the whole is a mess.
Sequestration is the mouthful for across-the-board automatic cuts in federal spending that will rip every federally funded program like a chain saw, rather than like a scalpel. By any sane measure, it’s the wrong way to reduce federal spending because the cuts will damage all programs, no matter their efficacy and efficiency. That means everything from defense to Head Start will feel the nondiscriminatory blade.
If ever the federal government did a dumb thing (and there are plenty to count), sequester is among the dumbest. It’s the lazy way of cutting federal spending. If it happens, it will further demonstrate the gridlock and ideological gamesmanship that causes Americans to hold Congress in low regard.
And make no mistake about it: Congress, not the president, will take the hit. Whether fair or not, a majority of the nation, as measured by polls, tends to give the president a pass when Congress goes into its partisan dance. The president and his team have mastered the politics of gridlock by helping cause it, and then spinning blame to congressional Republicans. For example, new polls show a large majority believes the president deserves a vacation; a similar majority is critical of Congress for taking a break.
Some politicians on the far right – the mossbacks who want to shrink the federal government no matter who gets hurt – say sequestration is not a big deal. They are wrong. Preparations for the pending cuts are under way. Furloughs will hit thousands of workers. Vendors, contractors, airport security (think lines are long now?), Social Security and Medicare, national defense on all levels, road contracts, water projects, farm programs and law enforcement are on the chopping block. The reduction in services and payments will be felt quickly by tens of thousands of big and small businesses. Markets, responding to a lack of confidence in Washington and the instability sequestration might engender, will fall.
If it happens. There are options, even as the president golfs and Congress covers its abysmal behavior. They are slated to go back to work Monday. Sequester falls Friday. That’s four days to delay creeping disaster by passing a continuing resolution to keep government operating. A continuing resolution will avoid crisis for possibly a year. But if our elected representatives don’t grow up, the nation will go through another crisis a year from now.
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