Opinion roundup: Congress, Obama and the sequestration

  • Article by: VARIOUS NEWSPAPERS , Wire services
  • Updated: February 27, 2013 - 11:59 AM

Editorials on the sequestration from the Miami Herald, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

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Illustration: Nancy Ohanian Tribune Media Services

Here are the views of three editorial boards regarding the sequestration:

 

Miami Herald Editorial Board:

Viewpoint: “This is the wrong way to go about budget cuts  like using a sledge hammer to perform dental work.”

Editorial: The wholesale reduction in federal spending now looming for week’s end was once thought to be so horrible, so disastrous for the national economy, that responsible leaders would never let it go into effect. As it turns out, this belief underestimated the level of bitterness and incapacity in Washington.

Even though the so-called sequester is no one’s idea of a smart way to cut federal spending, it’s about to go into effect at the end of this week. Both sides have dug in their heels. Republicans and the White House are spending more time blaming each other than trying to avoid this self-inflicted crisis.

Neither side is blameless. The White House hatched this plan back in 2011 as a breakthrough to make a deal with Republicans in Congress who were refusing to raise the debt ceiling, which would have created an even-greater economic crisis worldwide. Surely, they believed, tempers would abate in the ensuing 18 months, cooler heads would prevail and the 2012 election would determine the nation’s future course.

Wrong on all counts. In today’s Washington, cooler heads are definitely in the minority and elections don’t have as great an impact as they once did. The federal government needs to come up with a balanced deficit reduction plan that makes smart choices for everyone, of that there is no doubt. But this is the wrong way to go about it, like using a sledge hammer to perform dental work.

It does not deal with the real problem. The $1.2 trillion cuts in spending over a decade target a variety of domestic programs, including defense, but that’s not where the problem lies. Adjustments must be made in Medicare and Social Security to stop runaway spending and meet the challenge of the retiring baby-boomer generation, but this plan leaves the entitlement programs untouched. It’s not a solution by any definition.

The plan will produce a huge drag on the economy and might kill the recovery. The Congressional Budget Office said earlier this month that the sequester could cut the economic growth by 1.5 percent this year, which could mean hundreds of thousands of lost jobs.

Popular and necessary programs would be harmed. As of Friday, dozens of federal agencies must start bringing their budgets down. The Pentagon warns that hundreds of thousands of workers might lose 22 days of work.

It’s already having an impact. Florida Senate President Don Gaetz told The Herald Editorial Board on Monday that his Panhandle district, which includes five military installations, is already feeling the pinch because so many civilian workers don’t know what’s in store for them and have reined in discretionary spending.

Meanwhile, money for food safety inspectors, air traffic controllers, airport security personnel and others would be cut. NASA plans to cancel six technology development programs, border security would be curtailed and national parks would close or have limited access. The list of impacted programs is long and painful.

This is, frankly, a stupid way to cut the budget. And there is a better way, if only both sides would realize that a deal - a real budget fix - requires give and take by all parties. The co-chairs of the president’s deficit-cutting commission, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, have stated and restated the obvious: Democrats need to accept deeper cuts in healthcare spending and Republicans need to accept more tax increases.

The president says he’s willing to sit down and deal. Now the other side needs to come to the table.

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Fort Worth Star Telegram:

Viewpoint: We’re all just waiting for responsible government

Editorial: Telling President Obama and the Republicans in Congress to quit pointing fingers at each other and fix the problems of the federal budget is like telling a snarling wolf to settle down and be a nice doggy - they have a genetic predisposition to fight.

The current problem - $85 billion in spending cuts to be triggered Friday and taking place between now and the Sept. 30 end of the federal fiscal year - is particularly frustrating because it was designed back in 2011 as an event that surely would not happen. It’s been called the sequestration of those funds, or simply “the sequester.”

Now it looks for all the world like it will happen - or at least the news out of Washington indicates nothing will happen before Friday to stop it.

And the heavens will turn dark and the ground will shake without end, or so it would seem by what Obama and his team are saying. It’s all his fault, say top Republicans.

OK, so it was a bad idea from the beginning, programming big across-the-board spending cuts to happen automatically if the president and Congress couldn’t agree on properly planned ways of reining in out-of-control budget deficits.

The deadline originally was Jan. 1, but they struck a last-minute bargain in December, and now the deadline is March 1. Obama wants more revenue by eliminating tax breaks; Republicans say they agreed to enough on the revenue side in December and now will settle for nothing but spending cuts.

Not to belittle the stupidity of unplanned, ax-swinging, across-the-board cuts, but there’s reason to be skeptical of the doomsday warnings.

After months of describing the pending cuts to Pentagon spending as “shameful and irresponsible,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last week he will tell 800,000 civilian workers to take an extra day off each week without pay. He says those and other cuts will cause “real harm.”

He’s right, of course. The White House said Sunday the furloughs alone would affect 52,000 people in Texas, reducing their gross pay by around $274.8 million in total by Sept. 31.

But also in all of that is an ironic hint that Panetta is not taking the cuts seriously. If you’re an employer who sees your revenue taking a sharp, permanent decline, your first step is not to furlough workers. The way to absorb a permanent cut like that is to tell those workers, regretfully, that their jobs are coming to an end.

So there’s a high-profile Obama team player who must be thinking this is all going to blow over.

The White House also raised the threat of the Navy reducing its purchases of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter assembled by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth. But Lockheed Martin officials say they have Pentagon contracts with long lead times, so any changes wouldn’t show up for months.

The White House also said Texas would lose $67.8 million in federal funding for primary and secondary education, among other cuts.

That’s a lot of money, but the state is scheduled to receive $4.9 billion in federal funds this year, part of a total school spending plan that tops $40 billion when local funds are included. What the White House is talking about is taking away less than a 10th of a percent of public education spending in Texas. It’s doable.

Surely, at some point Washington posturing will end and responsible governing will begin. Even a wolf can get tired of snarling all the time.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Viewpoint: A great nation brought low by its dysfunctional politics.

Editorial: Congress and the Obama administration are likely to give the nation a self-inflicted wound known as the “sequester” later this week, a calculated decision that will lead to mindless budget-cutting and harm to the U.S. economy.

President Barack Obama continues to rail against the cuts, and some in Congress are worried about pet programs ranging from national defense to food stamps, but the two sides are not negotiating and both seem content to see how the political fallout rains down before acting.

The sharp across-the-board cuts that are coming are nonsensical; the failure of Obama and congressional leadership to negotiate a better deal speaks poorly of both sides. But it might shake members of Congress - and even the public - out of what some have called the nation’s “both/and” mentality.

Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake of The Washington Post wrote in “The Fix” column Monday that “just because the sequester is a manufactured crisis doesn’t mean it can’t have the same effect as a non-manufactured crisis in waking up the body politic to the “have cake/eat it too” mentality that dominates not just Washington but the public at large.”

They cite a recent Pew Research Center poll earlier this month that showed a public that wants it all.

The Pew poll found broad support for cutting federal spending - until respondents had to decide what actually would be cut. In none of the 19 specific areas polled did a majority of people support reducing federal spending. In fact, in 16 of the 19, people favored increasing spending.

In short: Cutting federal spending sounds great - as long as it’s the other guy who gets cut.

What such a finding calls for, of course, is political courage. And perhaps the threat of curtailed government services could eventually provide it.

The administration released state-by-state statistics showing what it said would happen if the sequester takes effect as scheduled on Friday. The White House said Wisconsin would lose about $8.5 million in aid for classroom teachers, would have fewer work-study jobs, fewer Head Start services, less money for preventing air and water pollution and less money for job training and public health - among other things. The entire list is at the White House website: www.whitehouse.gov.

Is this simply hyperbole, as Republicans claim? There’s certainly an element of that in the White House numbers. But such deep automatic cuts will hurt the economy. A number of government and private economic forecasters surveyed by The New York Times last week found that the cuts probably would reduce growth by about one-half of a percentage point this year.

The threat of sequestration was supposed to scare the White House and congressional leaders into a more comprehensive approach to deficit reduction. The sequester became law in 2011 during the fight to raise the federal debt ceiling. The original deal had the automatic cuts beginning on Jan. 1 of this year, but that date was pushed back two months in the deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” If it takes effect, there would be $85 billion in spending cuts during the rest of this fiscal year, with $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years.

The idea was this: The prospect of such deep cuts to programs that both Republicans and Democrats hold dear would force both sides to the bargaining table. But it hasn’t happened.

A smarter approach would be a combination of spending cuts over a period of years combined with tax reform that closed loopholes and raised more revenue while lowering rates, particularly for corporations. Obama continues to call for a “balanced” approach including more taxes on the wealthy. He has indicated that Democrats will have to compromise on changes to entitlement programs. We hope he means it.

The sequester is a blunt instrument that helps no one and will hurt both the economy and thousands of individuals across the country. And here’s the irony: If it remains in effect, it isn’t likely to do that much to reduce the deficit because of the negative effects on the economy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that defense cuts alone would reduce gross domestic product by 0.4% and result in nearly a half-million lost jobs by the end of this fiscal year.

Maybe that’s the sort of pain it will take to get political leaders in both parties to reach a smarter deal.

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These editorials were distributed by MCT Information Services.

 

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