- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The thought in the beginning was that sudden, deep, across-the-board cuts in federal spending would be so draconian and damaging that the threat would focus the minds of the men and women serving in Congress so they would come to an agreement on a long-term deficit reduction package.
That didn’t work. The “super committee” of Democrats and Republicans named to craft that plan couldn’t agree on a recommendation.
The threat of $1.2 trillion in budget cuts during the next decade, which is called sequestration and would affect nearly every aspect of the work of the federal government, is now scheduled to kick in on Jan. 2.
The hope now is that the threat to the national economy is so severe that Congress will step up to the plate and disarm it, perhaps by coming to an agreement in the lame-duck session after the November election. Or at least delay it. Given recent history, that might be the most likely option.
Southern Maryland has a keen interest in this. Our economy is heavily reliant on federal spending, particularly defense spending. The impact these cuts would have here is uncertain, but one researcher from George Mason University, who was commissioned by the Aerospace Industries Association to study the impact nationwide, said the direct and indirect cost of these cuts would be thousands of jobs in the region. Some dispute those figures, emphasizing that no one knows just how the cuts would translate to work associated with the military or arguing that Congress will not be so reckless as to let these cuts go into effect.
So why, with the sequestration set to go into effect in less than three months, is there so little discussion of it nationally? Partly to avoid spreading panic in the economy about something that might or might not happen, partly because the idea that Congress is dysfunctional is not new information, but largely because we’re in a political campaign.
The Democrats don’t want to point out that their president has been unable to lead Congress to a resolution. The Republicans in Congress don’t want to point out that they have been unable to lead their colleagues to a resolution.
In this season when rhetoric and not reason rules the day, it is taken as a given that this cannot be resolved until after Election Day, Nov. 6.
Congress might well act after that, hopefully coming to an agreement on a long-term deficit reduction package, which clearly is going to require targeted but substantial cuts in government spending and increases in tax collections.
If the best Congress can do is kick the can down the road for six months or so, for the nation’s sake, they should take action quickly. The recent pattern of brinksmanship, of acting with days or just hours remaining before doomsday scenarios are enacted, is stifling investment and economic recovery.