Photo by Gage Skidmore
For a hot second, the sequester was big news. Pundits who had been warning us about it for months were finally given a chance to talk about it in action. From the sound of it, doomsday had arrived. Then the nation collectively shrugged its shoulders and waited for another round of punishment.
After a few weeks, the sequester has fallen into the background. The reasons for this is simple. Many of the cuts won’t take effect until April, and even then it’s more of long-term process. The name is boring. Politically speaking, little progress has been made towards a solution, and it feels like we’ve been through this whole thing before.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the sequester is an issue worth understanding. To realize what’s actually happening, a three-part question needs to be addressed: What is the sequester, how did it come about, and most importantly, what are we going to do about it?
The first answer is simply a matter of facts.
The sequester is a set of automatic budget cuts that reduces funding for all discretionary programs at an equal rate. The cuts aren’t meant to eliminate any programs but simply reduce funding across the board. Although the cuts are split evenly between defense and domestic spending, there are a few differences between the two. For defense programs, it only affects discretionary spending, but the same can’t be said for domestic spending.
Mandatory programs such as Medicare are also on the chopping block, creating a situation that will impact a large number of people who depend on the program for healthcare. Funding for public-housing support will be reduced by an estimated $938 million in 2013; an estimated 575,000 to 750,000 low-income women, infants, and children could lose benefits; and 70,000 kids are projected to be removed from the Head Start program. These are some potentially disastrous cuts, especially for the most vulnerable Americans who rely on these services.
How did we get to this point? The sequester was first proposed as part of the debt-ceiling compromise in 2011 by the Obama administration. The concept behind its creation was that if the so-called super committee couldn’t make a deal on a new budget, the automatic cuts would take effect, crippling the country. It was seen as a threat so large that a deal would be unavoidable. But unsurprisingly, the plan didn’t work. After both parties failed to come to an agreement, the supposed worst-case scenario that would never happen in a million years became reality.
Their inability to compromise is another example of politicians so desperate to save the country that they’re willing to destroy it in the process. There are two lines of logic competing against each other. Conservatives, who are still trying to destroy Obamacare and other entitlement programs, have made it clear they’re not planning on changing their stance anytime soon. They’d rather cut their precious defense spending than raise taxes on millionaires and invest in welfare programs. Liberals have ceded the right to dictate the terms of the argument and now both parties are at an impasse.
Although everyone agrees the sequester has the potential to make things go from bad to worse, nobody can agree on how to end it. What’s the plan?
One way or another, someone’s going to have to budge. Obviously there are some things that shouldn’t be on the table for mandatory cuts. The problem is, preconceived ideologies are dictating which programs fall into that category. Health care is less important to conservatives than austerity measures, and they’ll be damned if a black, "socialist" president tells them any different. Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act is his signature achievement, so obviously his party has to defend it to the teeth. Once again, as so often is the case, sacred partisan lines have been drawn in the sand, and neither side is willing to cross them.
There are a few exemptions to the automatic cuts—congressional paychecks being one of them. But fuck things like the post office, they’re nothing more than a grandfathered-in money hole. Fuck schools, those liberal breeding grounds are filled with teachers doing it for the money anyway. Fuck air traffic controllers, national parks, and FEMA’s disaster relief budget. Fuck public transportation, public works, public housing, public anything—we’re all in it together, and if anyone’s going to suffer, the poor better be willing to do their part. They should either pull themselves up by their bootstraps or be willing to suffer more, for the good of the country.
Who knows how long it will take before our representatives come to an agreement? As Kurt Vonnegut similarly noted about Richard Nixon, the sequester proves our Constitution is a defective document, because it makes the childlike assumption that we would never elect politicians who hate us.
If they truly are representatives of our society, we’re an incredibly fractured people. It’s time we took a long, hard look in the mirror. If we can’t figure out a way to work together, our reflections never will.