RSS
Is it too late to avert the sequester's deep spending cuts?
Politicians on both sides of the aisle say they want to avoid the automatic budget cuts due to hit on March 1... but many doubt they can make a deal
The sequester clock is ticking...
The sequester clock is ticking... Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
R

epublican leaders in Congress predicted Wednesday that painful automatic spending cuts — the sequester, in Washington lingo — will hit at the end of the month, as scheduled. "I think the sequester’s gonna happen," Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of Senate Republican leadership, said at a Politico post-State-of-the-Union event. Indeed, Democrats and Republicans have made little or no progress on a compromise deficit reduction deal that would head off the across-the-board budget cuts, which would hit the Pentagon and social programs especially hard.

President Obama warned in his address that allowing the sequester to hit would be disastrous, and called for a "balanced" deal reducing the deficit with both new revenue and spending cuts. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the sequester is bad policy but House Republicans had already submitted their proposal to avert it, so it's up to the Democrat-controlled Senate to act now to avoid cuts designed to save $85 billion this year and $1.2 trillion over a decade. Should Americans brace for the worst, or is there still a chance for a compromise to head off the potentially damaging sequester?

Unless Obama changes his tune, Anneke E. Green argues at U.S. News & World Report, the sequester is going to happen, as long as Republicans don't lose their nerve. The president is warning "with a straight face" about the danger ahead, Green says, but "the impending spending cuts package was his idea from the start." During the 2011 debt talks, the White House praised the arrangement as a win-win, and Obama clearly "counted on Republicans in Congress to choose defense spending over fiscal restraint." Now he's "singing the sequestration blues," and it's his own fault.

Republicans in Congress gave Mr. Obama a tax increase on 77 percent of Americans just a few weeks ago. They must stick to their guns on cutting spending without tax increases, whether in a new deal or by allowing sequestration to hit. They must also resist those in their ranks who threaten to go soft over slashing defense dollars. It's time to face the music. We can't afford not to. [U.S. News & World Report]

Politicians do make it sound like stalemate is inevitable, acknowledges Jaimani Desai at Seeking Alpha. "Both Democrats and Republicans seem locked into their stances and unwilling to compromise." But "these are just negotiating tactics." The reality is that both sides have very strong reasons to strike a deal. Nobody wants to hamper the military or force the government to lay off hundreds of thousands of employees, and that includes most of the Republicans screaming loudest about the need to impose fiscal discipline in Washington.

The conventional wisdom states that the Republicans are in an advantageous position since an inability to reach agreement would automatically force spending cuts. My theory is that the Republicans are much more fond of "spending cuts" as a political issue to win votes as opposed to "spending cuts" as policy. I think recent history confirms this view. No doubt, in terms of rhetoric the Republicans excel in discussing the need for spending cuts, however in reality they have done little more than kick the can down the road and are equal perpetrators in the nation's fiscal issues. [Seeking Alpha]

And Congress will likely pay a political price if the sequester hits. Defense contractors are joining forces with public health experts — both groups that rely heavily on federal funds — in a "combined call to stop the upcoming sequester cuts," says Kate Ackley at Roll Call. "The rare display of unity among groups that are often pitted against one another underscored" how much opposition there is to the across-the-board budget cuts, and how much support there is for a compromise. These strange bedfellows are urging Congress and the Obama administration "to arrive at a bipartisan grand bargain that should include new tax revenues, an overhaul of entitlement programs, and cuts to the nondiscretionary side of the ledger." If they can work together, maybe Republicans and Democrats can, too.

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week