Photo: Albert H. Teich / Shutterstock.com
In a few days, some $85 billion in annual, across-the-board spending cuts are about to hit every department in every agency of the U.S. government.There’s no plan to avert the cuts, even though it’s widely agreed that they’re bad for the economy, and could hobble the defence department, along with many government services that many people rely on.
Who is to blame?
That’s the question that Bob Woodward asks in his new Washington Post report. He writes:
What is the non-budget wonk to make of this? Who is responsible? What really happened?
Woodward’s answer: Obama is responsible!
Citing his reporting from when he wrote his book, Obama came up with the idea of sequester that was 100 per cent cuts. Protestations to the contrary are totally bunk.
In fact, the final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.
So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts. His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made.
The argument is silly.
You can’t start a discussion about the sequester without starting with the broader context. The sequester was offered during the GOP’s unprecedented threat to not raise the debt ceiling, potentially putting the U.S. into default.
If offering spending cuts two years down the road is the only way to avoid such a calamity then a U.S. President should offer that 100 times out of 100. But is it really Obama’s “fault”? The sequester wouldn’t even be a term anyone knows if it weren’t for the debt ceiling nonsense.
But it gets worse. It was clearly agreed that the sequester wouldn’t be the end deal. Right after the debt ceiling fight ended, there was the establishment of a super-committee that would seek to find an equivalent level of deficit reduction without the haphazard, illogical across the board cuts proposed in the sequester. The super-committee failed to come up with anything, but there was an established attempt to avert the end deal.
And the argument gets even worse yet, because in politics and in the real world, attempting to renegotiate deals is what you do when there are preferable alternatives. There’s nothing wrong with Obama (or the GOP) offering sequester alternatives, since people don’t think the sequester is a good thing.
The GOP would like the cuts to fall mostly on non-defence discretionary spending. Obama would like deficit reduction to involve more revenue (closing tax loopholes and so forth). That’s not trickery. That’s what you do when you think there are better alternatives.
The sequester was a great idea compared to a 2011 default. The White House should be proud of defusing that bomb. But now there are better alternatives to the sequester, and they should be pursued.
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