Matt HealeySaturday,2 March 2013

The Snap:

The sequester has now happened. While I do not think it will be that big a deal as the cuts are shallow compared to the entire budget, that is not a universally accepted position. People will be furloughed and programs will get cut. I do feel sorry for the people who are affected. I do accept that this is a stupid way to make government cuts. It is, however, the only way our current system can make cuts, and cuts are required. However, there is one political trope that is driving me crazy. That is “This is all the Democrats’ fault because the sequester was their idea”

The Download:

By all accounts the sequester was Jack Lew’s idea. So technically, it is correct to say this was the Democrats’ idea. They were the ones that proposed it. But that is not the whole story and leaves out a critical point. The sequester came was a result of the negotiations to increase the debt ceiling in August 2011. As that deadline approached, the Tea Party decided that they were not going to accept an increase in the debt ceiling without spending cuts. They were feeling empowered by their electoral wins in November 2010, so in late May 2011, they defeated the GOP bill to raise the debt ceiling because it did not include spending cuts. Some of the intellectual leaders of the Tea Party, people like Michele Bachman, had gone on record saying that they had no intention of voting for an increase in the debt ceiling, and that default would not be so bad. Rand Paul in the Senate indicated that he would also not vote for an increase in the debt ceiling without also passing a balanced budget.

The problem at that point was that the Congress could not agree on spending cuts and taxes. Hmmmm, that feels kind of similar to the situation now, the sequester happened because Congress could not agree to spending cuts and taxes, but I digress. The divisions within the GOP, specifically in the House, were too deep because they lacked strong leadership from the Speaker and they had gerrymandered the districts so much that moderates were an endangered species. Against this backdrop, the White House was in difficult situation. They understood that despite the intellectual horsepower the Tea Party had demonstrated, they were wrong on this one. Default would be catastrophic but avoiding default would require a proposal that could get the backing of enough members of the Tea Party to pass the House. Clearly they could not rely on Boehner to propose something, because he could not get anything through his caucus. So Jack Lew came up with the sequester to avoid default. It passed and the U.S. avoided default. We did get downgraded by S&P, but that was mainly due to the positions taken by the Republican members of the House.

So, yes, the sequester was the Democrats’ idea. But let’s keep in mind what happened leading up to it.

Hat Tips:

NYT Q&A on sequester, Michele Bachman on debt ceiling , Fox News on Tea Party defeating GOP debt ceiling bill, Rand Paul demanding a balanced budget, GOP on debt ceiling , S&P explains why the US was downgraded, Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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