The stalemate polarizing Washington this week - sequestration – is indicative of a larger problem that is approaching epidemic proportions.
The collective federal government has gotten so good at postponing difficult decisions that citizens are numb to the impending effects of budget cuts set to begin taking effect at the close of this week.
In legal jargon, sequester means to remove property temporarily from the possession of the owner. If taxpayers and citizens are the “owners” of the country, it is up to them to judge whether or not taking away a portion of federal funding for airport security, health care and education is appropriate.
The word’s 14th century roots define it as putting valuable property in the hands of a trustee. Isn’t that what we do when we authorize members of Congress to craft a budget each year? Aren’t we allowing these senators and members of the House of Representatives to make financial decisions for us?
Earlier this week, Senate Democrats were poised to introduce a $110 billion bill that would replace this year’s sequester cuts with revenue increases (taxes?) and spending cuts. They have not yet discussed a larger plan to replace all of the scheduled cuts, instead focusing on turning off the sequester for a year, according to Roll Call, a newspaper serving Capitol Hill.
There ought to be a law against such postponements. Dodging the question has become as common as cherry blossoms in the District of Columbia.
Over at the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney “sidestepped” a question about whether the president would support a Republican effort to give the administration the flexibility to make the cuts in a smarter way. Carney said that while flexibility might help, it would be “impossible” to “basically prevent all the bad things from happening but somehow allow cuts to come in places that nobody will notice.”
Administration officials are warning of massive delays at airports, for example, after security personnel are laid off in the wake of budget cuts.
Screenings would continue as usual, but there would be fewer employees performing them.
Carney made the argument that the GOP so far has been choosing to protect tax breaks for hedge funds, oil companies and corporate jets rather than avert the sequester, continued Roll Call. Republicans returned fire by pointing out that higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans were agreed upon at the start of the year.
This unproductive jousting between Congress and the White House led President Barack Obama on Monday to drag state governors into the ring, complicating the crisis even more.
The annual gathering of the National Governors Association was a prime opportunity for Obama to urge state executives to review state-by-state reports outlining how the more than $1 trillion in cuts would affect their constituents. The water just got muddier.
Consider Virginia, where the administration says about 90,000 civilians are expected to lose about 22 days of work during the seven months left in fiscal 2013. Those furloughs would amount to more than $648 million in lost wages. The state also would lose more than $150 million in military operating funds, and maintenance of about 11 naval vessels would be canceled. What’s become of our pride, our dignity?
“These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off anytime with just a little bit of compromise,” Obama said. Somehow, it cannot be that simple. Or that petty.
Caught in the middle - again - are the American people. We now have the president, several conspicuous members of Congress and a gaggle of governors trying to scale the same pole to come out as the winner. Can’t they see the average citizens below are walking away in disgust? If this was the circus, the tent would be empty by now.
Compromises must be made this week on a long-term plan to reduce spending while not jeopardizing security, education and jobs. We cannot tax our way out of this potential catastrophe. Let the president and Congress show leadership - not threats - in solving this crisis of confidence.
That’s what the “owners” of the country elected them to do.