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The Sequester: What you should know

rachel's picture

As the country faces the deadline of yet another manufactured crisis, it's important to get a few facts straight about the looming budget sequester, which will take place March 1 if no legislative action is taken.  Many of us will spend time arguing about this with friends, family or co-workers, so here are some things to keep in mind:

First, the sequester grew out of the GOP's scorched-earth tactics over raising the debt limit to pay our country's bills. A routine step that had taken place 74 times since 1962 suddenly became an extortion tool in the hands of Republicans when Democrats refused to sacrifice critical safety net spending on the altar of continued tax breaks for the super-wealthy. Facing a looming government default, both parties agreed to the so-called "sequester," a set of budget cuts so drastic, both sides would surely cooperate to avoid them when the time came. (It's important to remember that such severe cuts didn't bother Republican House Speaker John Boehner -- he crowed that he got "98% of what he wanted" at the time.) Like the debt-ceiling debacle and the fiscal cliff fiasco, the looming sequester is yet another man-made -- and completely avoidable -- crisis.

Second, whereas Republicans insist on resolving this fiscal "crisis" with budget cuts alone, Democrats and President Obama have proposed a more balanced approach, one that calls for modest cuts and increased revenues.  The GOP insists that it has already grudgingly accepted new taxes, and the Democrats should expect not one penny more. But look at the chart above. Democrats agreed to more than $1.5 billion in spending cuts as part of the debt ceiling negotiations, while Republicans accepted $737 billion in new revenues after the fiscal cliff stand-off late last year.  Notice anything off-kilter?

A plan that insists on spending cuts alone would make this situation even more lopsided. More importantly, it would run exactly counter to the will of the American people, who rejected the GOP's austerity message and sent President Obama and large numbers of Democrats back to Washington to fight for programs that benefit the middle class.  Polls continue to support the Democratic position.  A recent Pew poll, for instance, found that most Americans reject additional spending cuts and, in fact, support increased government spending on a host of programs, including Social Security and Medicare.

Finally, endless bickering over the latest economic doomsday is exhausting to most people and brings about a sort of "pox on both your houses" attitude. And, really, who can blame them? But both sides are not to blame.  Democrats have proposed a balanced approach to dealing with the federal budget, while Republicans insist on holding the entire country hostage to an ideological pipe dream that was soundly rejected in the last election. The more people understand that dynamic, the clearer their choices become.


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