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Could the sequester actually be good for America?
A real crisis could force us out of our fiscal fantasy world
 
President Obama toasts state leaders during the White House governor's ball on Feb. 24: Many governors of both parties are eager to avoid the sequester's indiscriminate spending cuts.
President Obama toasts state leaders during the White House governor's ball on Feb. 24: Many governors of both parties are eager to avoid the sequester's indiscriminate spending cuts. Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Welcome to Sequester Week: If Congress does nothing before Friday, the federal government starts dealing in $85 billion in cuts to discretionary spending over the rest of this fiscal year, and $1.2 trillion over the next decade, roughly half of it from the Defense Department budget. To underscore, again, how unpleasant these cuts will be, President Obama on Sunday released a detailed breakdown of what programs and jobs could be cut in each state and congressional district.

Obama and congressional Democrats have a pretty unified message on the sequester: Replace it with a "balanced" package of targeted tax increases and spending cuts. Republicans, on the other hand, are divided into roughly three camps, says Ginger Gibson at Politico, and two of those either are willing to let the cuts kick in or "want the cuts to be even deeper," arguing that Obama is using "scare tactics" to make necessary cuts sound worse than they will be. Many Republican governors, gathered in Washington for the National Governors Association meeting, fall into the third camp: Fix it!

Until now, Republican governors have mostly been content to blame Obama for the sequestration cuts that will hit their states in five days, and they've stayed quiet about the role their Hill colleagues have played in the mess. That's exactly what Republican leaders wanted, since they're trying to stick Obama with the blame for the cuts, insisting it's up to him to come up with a backup plan that doesn't raise taxes again. But governors aren't having it anymore. [Politico]

The governors are right to be nervous, says economist Jared Bernstein at his blog. "While the truth is no one knows how this is going to play out, I strongly suspect it will be rough at both macro and micro levels." On the macroeconomic level, we'll probably see half a point shaved from an already too-weak GDP and hundreds of thousands of job losses. And on the micro level, "the layoffs and furloughs I'm reading about sound real to me, and I suspect their impact will be felt by many people if this drags on for more than a few weeks" — cuts in Head Start and food stamps, defense contractors and FDA food inspectors, and "for anyone who travels a lot, like I do, the TSA and FAA furloughs are... um... worrisome." If you're heading to the airport soon, "bring a good book. A good, long book."

But there could be an upside, say Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. "The most basic truth of modern politics is that action happens only in response to crisis," and this could be the crisis that spurs Congress into big action — and Americans into getting a grip on our fiscal plight. That could be a good thing.

Most people live in a fantasy world where overall federal spending decreases even as spending on virtually every federal program increases. Given that "reality", it's uniquely possible that only through crisis — manufactured or not — will people come to grips with the fundamental paradox at the center of their thinking of what the federal government should or shouldn't do. Make no mistake: People aren't paying much (really, any) attention to the sequester.... But, it's also possible that the size of the cuts — a trillion dollars is a ton of money even spread out over the next decade — and the heat of the rhetoric coming from the two parties causes the sort of crisis that forces a decent number of people to pay attention and begin to re-examine (or, more likely examine) the way they think about spending. And, if enough people start paying attention, their politicians — forever a reactive species — could well be emboldened or intimidated into doing something big(ger). [Washington Post]

 

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