Lazy, Egotistical, and Partisanship: The Making of a Sequester

Some background as to the WHAT and WHY of sequester:

The intent of sequester was to be so undesirable that neither political Party nor Chamber of Congress would allow it to occur. The debt ceiling is not about current government spending. It is about the government paying off debts incurred by past Congresses. In other words, the money has already been spent and the bill is due.  Senator Tom Harkin (IA) introduced the legislation as S.365.

The Senate vote of 74 YEAs and 26 NAYs can be seen here:

The text of the House Report 112-90 can be seen here:

The House vote of 269 YEAs and 161 NOEs with 3 NV can be seen here:

Congress presented the Budget Control Act of 2011 to President Barack Obama on 2 August 2012, and he signed it into law that same day.

Public Law 112-25, Budget Control Act of 2011 can be seen here:

The term “sequester” in a political usage dates back to 1985 and Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act.  For a synopsis of statutory budgetary controls between 1985 and 2002, please refer to this 1 July 2011 CRS Report by Megan Suzanne Lynch.

In past history, the typical Congress passed appropriation bills separately to provide for total government spending.  As multiple bills are passed, total spending can exceed the limits that Congress has set for itself in the budget resolution.  When Congress has not enacted a new budget resolution, the one passed previously remains in force.  When spending exceeds the set limits, Congress can either agree to cut back on the total amount of funds allocated, or it can pass a higher Budget Resolution which is often referred to as raising the debt ceiling.  If Congress fails to either cut or raise the debt ceiling, an “automatic” form of spending cutbacks occurs.

That automatic cutback is termed sequestration because an amount of money equal to the difference between the limit set in the Budget Resolution and the amount actually appropriated is “sequestered” by the Treasury. It is simply not handed over to the agencies to which it was originally promised by Congress. In theory, every agency has the same percentage of its appropriation withheld in order to take back the excessive spending on an “across the board” basis.

The reason for the blanket “across the board” cuts versus allowing the different agencies to prioritize and streamline is to prevent a continuation of the political differences in Congress which created a sequester in the first place.  The intent was to make it unpalatable.  In an ideal environment, each agency receiving Federal funding would utilize its resources in the most efficient and effective manner as possible.  To encourage responsibility, Congress with the sole Constitutional power to allocate funds through persuasion or even coercion would enforce the necessity for efficient and responsible usage of funds which Congress allocates.  If sequester occurs, the respective agencies have either failed to make the most sensible decisions regarding their funding or Congress has been negligent by either providing too much to some agencies which is wasted and insufficient funds to others who have been prudent in their operations.

For information on how and why Congress has the “power of the purse” and insight into the Constitutional provisions and interpretations, please see here:

With that sequester background on what and why, the question of most is the sequester effect.

The HOW will sequester effect questions

That’s more difficult to determine because the truth which few seem willing to give is that it is impossible to determine.  These are the reports from the Office of Management and Budget to the White House and Congress.

You can find numerous articles and talks by President Obama, Members of Congress, Governors, and practically any and everyone with a range from doomsday to a casual stroll in a pleasant breeze.

Yesterday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) on the House Floor accused President Obama for “scaring people, creating havoc.” “The president says to Americans that their food is going to go un-inspected, and that our borders will be less patrolled and unsafe. His cabinet secretaries are holding press conferences and conducting TV interviews, making false claims about teacher layoffs.”

On sequester and other issues, critics of the President have charged him with campaigning style attacks versus solving the problems.

One can cite any number of sources to see the politicking by both sides in Congress and the White House.  Here is one of many examples:

Of particular interest were the two plans proposed in the United States Senate to stop the sequester.

“The Democratic bill to replace the sequester would have reduced spending by $55 billion and raised taxes by $55 billion. Most of the tax revenues would have come from phasing in a 30 percent effective tax rate on incomes between $1 million and $5 million. Adjusted gross incomes above $5 million would have been taxed at a 30 percent effective rate. The bill cut agricultural subsidies by $27.5 billion and defense by the same amount.

The Republican alternative sponsored by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) would have given the president more flexibility to manage the cuts and limited the impact on national security. It would have allowed Obama to shift cuts slated for defense programs to other areas and explicitly prohibited tax or fee increases.

Republicans opposed to the bill, including defense hawks and the party’s top appropriator, said it would do too little to protect defense programs and would give too much of Congress’s authority to Obama.”

Each bill needed 60 votes instead of a simple majority for passage.  The Democratic bill received a vote of 51 YEAs to 49 NAYs, and the Republican bill received a vote of 38 YEAs to 62 NAYs.

Why were these plans and votes of particular interest?

Detractors of the Republican sponsored bill which received all 38 YEA votes from Republicans, argued that the bill would give too much of Congress’s authority to the President.

REPEAT:  Congress’s authority

Some argue that the percentage of cuts mandated by sequester are miniscule when compared to the amount of the current deficit and government spending.  That’s a fair argument.  The question is, however, are these mandated cuts actually solving any of the problems or even addressing the pertinent issues?  Some will feel the brunt of the cuts, while others might not feel any adverse effects.  You might argue, that’s life, but it isn’t about fairness; it is about doing things which address the problems and that was not and is not the purpose of sequestration.

The proposals to have sequestration with authority granted to either the President or any committee or individual(s) to decide how to implement the mandated cuts are ludicrous.  The amount of these cuts will not solve any of the issues.  The purpose was to encourage Congress and the Federal agencies receiving funds to become leaner and more efficient.  Instead, we have this rhetoric of “the President needs to lead,” “the President needs to present solutions,” “it’s the Democrats,” “it’s the Republicans” who are to blame.  Changing the rules only shifts responsibility to others while those granted the task by the Constitution can sit back and do nothing.

President Obama:

As to the President, where is the Constitutional authority for the Executive Branch to have the “power of the purse?”  Would we want the President to have that power?  As to leadership, is it possible to lead something that is highly unwilling?  Often, a simple gesture such as asking someone politely gets the goal accomplished.  What if that approach does not work?  What should be done if an employee refuses to do his or her job?  My own experience has been that an initial discussion and clarification of expectations which involves BOTH individuals listening can often solve the issue.  Sometimes it becomes more difficult, especially if one or both sides refuse to listen, but you still focus on a common element and try to work from that position.  Ultimately, however, any exchanges will become more intense and emotional with a likely conclusion of termination.  Whether you agree or disagree with President Obama making usage of a bully pulpit on the budget, the issue is that Congress, both House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans must reach some type of agreement.  That’s not blame; that’s our Constitution.

To get things done:

The 27th Amendment makes the entire no budget, no pay, position nothing more than political posturing.  Both media and constituents need to put emotions away, stop the incessant liberal and conservative labeling, and stop embracing hate, but actually practice the apparently bizarre concept of “hating hate.”

What now?

These four (4) issues appear to have bipartisan support in both House and Senate, with the White House, and with many in the public.

1) Deficit reduction

2) Entitlement spending reduction (using the broad definition entitlement to include pensions, welfare, and health care.

3) Defense spending (maintain levels or increase)

4) Simplify the tax code by eliminating loopholes, streamlining and clarifying deductions.

Those may look simple on paper, but each is very complicated.  There will be many arguments and disagreements on how and the best manner to accomplish the above.  Still, all of these shared goals are not being discussed with actual plans for incorporation.  They are only talking points, and we all have our own opinions.

The battle wages between these basic positions:

1) Remain at current levels or increase rates toward the top

2) Equal across the board cuts for both corporate and individuals at every level

Again, these are not that simple.  At this stage, however, how important are these differences and why must it be the issue discussed initially?  Both sides are equally guilty here.  More revenue is just plain stupid if it is only going to be wasted whether through inefficiency or just plain corruption or ignorance.  Too insist that discussions of new revenue are off the table is more ignorance because we do not know what is actually necessary at this juncture.

Oh for something other than blame from our representatives please:

If all you can do is point fingers, blame others, and pass the buck, is it likely to have an understanding of the multiplicity of issues?  This is a partisan shot, but the House held “how many” votes to repeal “Obamacare?”  The 30+ votes aren’t significant in my shot, but how many alternatives to the Act did we see introduced?  My opinion is that many aspects of “Obamacare” are positive, but there exists a significant amount of bloat and negative aspects as well.  Most people I know, however, will argue that healthcare is a major issue and some actions need to take place to make the system more efficient and cost effective.  So argue to repeal “Obamacare” but offer some real alternative plan.  The talk and posturing doesn’t cut it anymore as we need to identify problems and formulate both solutions and alternative solutions.

All we will most likely see is another stop gap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown before funding expires on 27 March.

History and applicability for today:

Sequester was designed to force some type of grand bargain on the deficit whether it be by increasing revenue through taxation, saving through spending cuts, or a combination.  That grand bargain did not occur because compromise is a forgotten word.  Historically, the issues confronting the former colonies who declared independence from England and created a government with the Articles of Confederation must be imaginary.  That new country almost imploded and thus a new government as opposed to the original charge of amending the old became a goal.  To get that government, a “Great Compromise” had to be reached for cooperation between highly populated states versus one’s with lesser populations.

Why is compromise unpopular today?  Why do some call Progressivism evil?  Many of what we claim to be rights were not granted by the signers of the Constitution.  They came from progressive movements.  The phrase “all men are created equal” is included in the Declaration of Independence.  How many have considered the definition of “men” at the time of the writing of that document?

Quote for Today:

Sequester:   “It’s just dumb. And it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt individual people and it’s going to hurt the economy over all,”  President Barack Obama, 1 March 2013

Democrat, Republican, supporter of the President, hater of the President, Men, Women, Children, Fellow Americans, Fellow inhabitants of the Planet Earth, sadly I think we can all find at least a portion of this quote from the President to which we agree.