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Sequestration for Dummies

OMB sealSequestration” has become the political issue du jour, or as the president called it, a”manufactured crisis” plotted by Congress. Sure, in its inception it seemed like a plausible way to bring legislators on the right and left together in the spirit of compromise on behalf of the American people. The same people that they elected to represent the citizens of the states in Washington, D.C. So, you might ask, how did that compromise thing go?

HAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! *breathe* HAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

If there were compromise we wouldn’t be inundated with X DAYS TO SEQUESTRATION panic on the evening news. Janet Napolitano wouldn’t be telling us that these across-the-board cuts will make it easier for the terrorists to get to us. The president and Speaker Boehner wouldn’t be playing a rousing game of “1, 2, 3 NOT IT!” We wouldn’t be fretting over a crisis that the president and Congress were all gung ho for, voted for, then subsequently signed into law thinking that it would never happen.

We wouldn’t be here.

How did we get here? Here’s the CliffNotes version that doesn’t require the assistance of a Nobel-Prize-winning economist.

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  • The Budget Control Act 1 of 5
    The Budget Control Act
    Photo: Pete Souza

    The Budget Control Act (BCA) was passed in August 2011 with the purpose of raising the debt ceiling - the amount the federal government can borrow in order to pay for things they've already voted for. All sides - Republicans, Democrats, the administration - agreed that the debt ceiling could be raised only if a plan was put in place to reduce the deficit. Initial cuts were made for Fiscal Year 2012 with a committee formed to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion over ten years. With this plan in place the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate voted for this bill which the president then signed.
  • The SuperCommittee 2 of 5
    The SuperCommittee
    Photo: C-SPAN

    The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (AKA ‘Super Committee. Unfortunately no capes were involved in the outfitting of this committee) was formed with six Republicans - Jon Kyl, Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, Jeb Hensarling, Fred Upton, Dave Camp and six Democrats - Patty Murray, Max Baucus, John Kerry, Xavier Becerra, Jim Clyburn, Chris Van Hollen. The task of the committee was to come up with a deficit reduction plan $1.5 trillion dollars to be cut over ten years. Should the committee not complete its job a trigger was put in place - the sequester - that would make across-the-board cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were off the table). In December of 2012 the Super Committee said that it could not come up with a compromise and the following month the committee was resolved. Thus setting the federal budget up for sequestration.
  • The Fiscal Cliff 3 of 5
    The Fiscal Cliff
    Photo: Pete Souza

    So, at the end of 2012 the federal government knew that sequestration was coming but everyone was pretty chill about it thinking that Congress would come to a compromise because it's CONGRESS and that's what they do. Then one day in February, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, testified that not only do we have to worry about sequestration but also the debt ceiling will need to be raised again and there are tax cuts that are expiring soon. Oh! And the federal government is currently running on a continuing budget resolution. We do not have a budget. Bernanke referred to what was about to occur as a ‘Fiscal Cliff'. And that was about when economists and armchair pundits and lobbyists started freaking out a bit. Meanwhile an election was going on during which the president said that the sequester wasn't going to happen because we have Congress on our side. The next thing you know it's December 31st at midnight and the feds are about to take the country over a cliff and suddenly a crisis is averted with the American Tax Payer Relief Act which extended Bush-era tax cuts and pushed the sequester to March 1st.
  • Sequestration 4 of 5
    Sequestration
    Graphic: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

    I am writing this on February 25th. Sequestration happens on March 1st. Some say that come midnight we're all doomed others say that it will take a few weeks for things to settle down and then it will be time to panic. About $55 billion will need to be cut from domestic discretionary spending and $55 billion from defense spending. A few drastic cuts to be made should sequestration occur: Education funding will be cut by $3 billion to $4.8 billion (depends on the estimate used), which will affect approximately 7.4 million students and there is the potential for almost 50,000 job losses. Say goodbye to things like IDEA, Head Start and grants for Career and Technical Education. Job training, HIV/AIDS testing and maternal/fetal health. All would be cut. Then for defense there is the potential for base closings, operation and maintenance, our ability to help with disasters overseas and in our backyard, even the operation aid for the Navy, Marine Corps and National Guard will be cut. Oh, and the Afghan security forces.

    But why the sudden worry, especially since the government knew that this was coming and that it would be detrimental? And why did they vote for it and sign it into law if they knew it was a bad idea? I honestly don't know. Politics perhaps? Perhaps they thought that the good of the country would outweigh partisan gridlock? Perhaps it was a way to show the American people that they mean business? Whatever the reason, here we are, just four days before major budget cuts and there is still no resolution.

    Scroll down to find a state by state breakdown of sequestration cuts
  • An ‘Edsplainer’ 5 of 5
    An 'Edsplainer'
    Photo: Washington Post

    Ed O'Keefe a friend and reporter for the Washington Post, explains the sequester far better than I with bonus visuals.

 

Keep the conversation going with Heather Barmore at Poliogue: The Art of Political Dialogue, Twitter and Facebook.

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