The United States is rapidly approaching the deadline for a cryptically-named federal budget cleaver; the “sequester”. Republicans and Democrats alike are competing in the national media over who can denounce the sequester the most. Ohio Republican representative, and Speaker of the House, John Boehner (OH-8) has started referring to the reckless policy as “Obamaquester”. President Obama, to his credit, responded by repeatedly pointing out that after concluding the budget negotiations that created the sequester in 2011, Speaker Boehner proudly proclaimed “I got 98 percent of what I wanted, I’m pretty happy”. So who is to blame for the upcoming sequester that everyone wants to avoid?
Both parties are more or less equally at fault for creating such a drastic budget cutting mechanism. FactCheck.org is just one of the many media outlets that detailed how both sides created the budget sequester during the summer-long debt ceiling negotiations in 2011.
Both sides created the sequester, but there is a more important question to be answered: who is to blame for not avoiding it?
That responsibility, unfortunately, lies mostly on the shoulders of Speaker Boehner and his immovable Republican caucus in the House of Representatives. The House initiates all legislation in this country. We cannot move forward with any legislative policy unless it first receives a vote in the House of Representatives, and Speaker Boehner has not allowed any debate or vote on repealing or replacing the sequester.
Before discussing the failure of leadership that led us to this budget nightmare, we must first review the legislation itself. The Budget Control Act of 2011, which created the sequester, passed the House of Representatives with 269 votes (174 Republicans and 95 Democrats) and the Senate with 74 votes (46 Democrats and 28 Republicans). The president then signed the bill into law and vowed to never again allow Republicans to threaten the financial security of the United States, and the global economy, through brinksmanship on raising the debt ceiling – something the Republicans tried again in January 2013 to no avail.
The three foremost Republicans in the House of Representatives voted “yes” on the original sequester deal – Speaker Boehner along with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA-7) and representative Paul Ryan (WI-1). All three men now claim to have had nothing to do with creating this budget ax. None has shown any willingness to compromise on other cuts that could delay or replace budget sequestration. President Obama has offered an alternative, combining cuts to different programs with ending certain tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest individuals and corporations. With an alternative compromise on the table, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives refuses to even approach discussions.
The House of Representatives, with its Republican majority and speaker, seems dead set on adopting so-called “budget sequestration”. The sequester will cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their jobs. It will take thousands of children out of preschool. It will threaten thousands of special needs children and adults with a reduction in primary care. It will cut off pay to air traffic controllers. It will cause teachers, police, and firefighters to be laid off.
The sequester would send this economy back into recession, abruptly stopping any progress we might have made in the last few years. It will increase the unemployment rate. The country will be weaker and poorer as a result, and the fault lies almost entirely with Republicans in the House of Representatives.
The entire sequester was created on purpose by a congressional budget committee. It was created specifically to be so disastrous that Congress would never allow it to happen. The sequester was created because members of Congress believed that the only way to force cooperation was to create a crisis so dire the two sides would be forced to compromise. The White House has already offered its compromise option. The Senate has offered a bipartisan sequester compromise of its own. Democrats in the House of Representatives have agreed to vote on both plans. Several moderate Republicans in the House have crossed the aisle and joined that call… and the Republican leadership has not budged.
The United States is facing a crisis of its own creation, but it is also facing one that virtually everyone in the country agrees can and should be avoided. Washington does, in fact, need to reign in its rampant spending. We need a tactful and resigned approach to cut the fat out of the budget. The sequester, on the other hand, is a hammer swung blindly at the budget.
The sequester was created to be unbearably painful, to force Congress to come up with some alternative. Both sides came together in July 2011 and created a budget hammer that would crush the other’s most prized possessions; Republicans would lose billions of dollars of beloved defense contracts, while Democrats offered senior citizen and early childhood services.
The two sides created the sequester as a booby trap for themselves, a means to force compromise out of two political parties that had grown to hate one another. Now, despite concerted efforts, the entire country is going to be dragged into recession because a handful of Republicans in the House are unwilling to hear the other side.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) voted for the original sequester bill and President Obama signed it, but neither man ought to be held responsible if Congress actually goes through with it. If Speaker Boehner were willing to even consider the Senate’s bipartisan sequester compromise he would have more than 190 Democratic votes and at least a handful of Republicans. The bill could then move on to the Senate where it would likely receive more than 60 votes before being passed along to the White House to be signed into law.
The American government is virtually in agreement on a sensible deficit reduction plan that would cut only modestly into the defense budget while protecting America’s seniors, first responders, and underprivileged. The votes are there. They await nothing more than Speaker Boehner’s consent, and he would rather they suffer for the sake of his own political agenda.
Speaker Boehner’s anti-government zealotry has corrupted his judgment, and the American people are about to pay the price.