Sequester pain and misplaced pride

The New York TimesApril 24, 2013 

The following editorial appeared in The New York Times on Wednesday:

On Monday, after the sequester cuts forced the Federal Aviation Administration to begin furloughs for air traffic controllers, delays began to build up at airports around the country. Travelers had to wait, but nothing delayed Republicans from scurrying away from all responsibility.

Speaker John Boehner started using the Twitter hashtag #ObamaFlightDelays, the latest effort in his party’s campaign to blame all the pain of the sequester on the Obama administration while claiming all the credit for its effect on reducing the deficit.

“Why is President Obama unnecessarily delaying your flight?” Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, tweeted.

If the president wanted to, Republicans said, he could easily cut somewhere else and spare travelers any inconvenience.

As it happens, the sequester law is clear in requiring the FAA and most other agencies to cut their programs by an even amount. That law was foisted on the public after Republicans demanded spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling in 2011. Since then, the party has rejected every offer to replace the sequester with a more sensible mix of cuts and revenue increases. Boehner is so proud of that strategy that he recently congratulated his party for sticking with the sequester and standing up to the president’s demands for tax increases.


But drastic cuts in spending carry a heavy price. Republicans don’t want voters they care about – including business travelers and those who can afford to fly on vacation – to feel it. They continue to claim that the $85 billion in this year’s sequester can be covered by eliminating waste, fraud, consultants and the inevitable grant to some obscure science or art project. And, of course, to programs for the poor.

You don’t see any Republican hashtags blaming the president for cutting housing vouchers to 140,000 low-income families, which has begun. These vouchers are given by cities to families on the brink of homelessness, and about half of them go to families with children.

There aren’t any angry tweets about the 70,000 Head Start slots about to be eliminated, which is forcing some school districts to distribute these valuable services by lottery. Or about the cuts to Vista, which is hurting the program that performs anti-poverty work in many states. Or the 11 percent cut in unemployment benefits for millions of jobless workers.

The voiceless people who are the most affected by these cuts can’t afford high-priced lobbyists to get them an exception to the sequester, the way that the agriculture lobby was able to fend off a furlough to meat inspectors. And what was cut in order to keep those inspectors on the job? About $25 million from a program to provide free school breakfasts.

As bad as the sequester was, it is being made worse by these special-interest demands for exceptions, as well as politically motivated attempts to deflect the responsibility for pain.

The maneuvering shows the futility of trying to reduce the deficit with crude and arbitrary cuts. Both Senate Democrats and the White House have proposed budget plans that replace the sequester with a much better mix of spending cuts and revenue increases.

On Tuesday, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, proposed replacing the sequester for five months with unspent money from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those savings might not represent real money, but the idea is no more illusory than the Republican fantasy that billions can be cut with no real effect to the country.

The New York Times

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