Editorial: Sequester is doing more harm than good
Well, here we go again. This time it isn’t a fall off a fiscal cliff but the economic face plant in an empty swimming pool that will occur if $85 million in federal spending cuts called for by that congressional doomsday machine, the sequester, can’t be avoided. The deadline is less than a week away – the first cuts are expected to begin on March 1 – but Republicans, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte, continue to insist that the deficit must be reduced solely through spending cuts and not, as President Obama wants, with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the well off.
The Pentagon, which contributes $69 million to New Hampshire’s annual payroll, estimates that it will have to furlough 800,000 civilian employees for varying periods of time if the cuts go through. The impact will hit the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the state’s defense industry employers and their subcontractors hard. Domestic spending cuts will mean less money for teachers, firefighters, police officers and other state and local employees in New Hampshire and everywhere else.
Last week, the president stumped the nation to sell his plan and blame Republicans for the personal hardship and economic damage that the sequester in defense will have. Meanwhile Ayotte, who has become part of the Republican spin machine, was pushing her completely silly proposal to avoid the sequester with legislation that would reduce the number of federal employees by 10 percent. Her plan would allow federal agencies to hire only one person for every three lost to attrition. That simplistic plan shouldn’t be taken seriously. The nation’s deficit isn’t the result of too many federal employees. It was caused by bloated defense spending, unpaid for wars, unaffordable tax cuts and the unchecked rise in health care costs and a recession. And across-the-board cuts like those Ayotte calls for are needs-blind and inherently dumb. As a former state agency head, Ayotte knows that, but she’s having too much fun grandstanding with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham to admit it.
Just as it did in 1996, when House Speaker Newt Gingrich shut down government in a budget battle with President Bill Clinton, the public will blame Republicans for the harm caused by the sequester, and they’ll be right. What has become the Grand Obstructionist Party would rather compromise the nation’s security and cut benefits like food stamps for the poor and benefits for the elderly than permit taxes to be increased by even a fraction on corporations and the rich.
The sequester arose out of an unprecedented Republican refusal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, an act that held the economy hostage and led to the first-ever reduction in America’s credit rating. It was a gamble that the American people lost. Make no mistake: The public has had it with manufactured Republican crises like the debt ceiling and the falling of the sequester ax. They, and we, have no faith that if this crisis is averted, perhaps by once again kicking the can down the road with a postponement, GOP leaders won’t gin up another one.
Members of Congress, Ayotte included, should stop this game of chicken and vote to abolish the sequester. It’s done far more harm than good. Then, maybe, they can get on with the business of finding a compromise that includes wise spending cuts and the long overdue reform of the nation’s tax code. No one put it better than Kevin Drum, writing in Mother Jones: “If you’re holding a gun to the American economy’s head, the first thing to do is put down the gun.”