There is very little agreement in Washington on how to avoid the across-the-board spending reductions scheduled for Friday. Republicans are less than thrilled to see half the sequestration hitting defense, and Democrats are in a meltdown over the prospects of their welfare-state handouts getting a nip and tuck.
There are several ways this could be resolved, but if the government is spending less of our money by the end of the week, that’s good — for us and the economy.
At a meeting with the National Governors Association at the White House on Monday, President Obama did his best scary tale of ghosts and goblins around the campfire, highlighting how much federal funding each state would lose if the sequestration actually sequesters. It’s part of Mr. Obama’s campaign to make Americans think the sky will fall if 2.2 percent is cut from a $3.8 trillion budget.
“Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings,” he said. “These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off anytime with just a little bit of compromise.”
Compromise? Compromise? By “compromise,” he means the House Republicans must go along with his demands for yet another round of tax increases. Mr. Obama and his Democratic Senate pals are hyping this manufactured crisis as an excuse for a vote this week on what they call a “balanced approach.” It’s purely for show, since the tax-hike package can’t even get the 60 votes in the Democratic Senate needed for passage.
Another option would give the White House the authority to determine which agencies and activities get cut, and by how much. Some in Congress are uncomfortable giving Mr. Obama a power that could be misused for political purposes, so the idea hasn’t floated far. Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, says, “There’s nothing like that on the schedule this week. If the Senate passes such a bill, we’re happy to take a look.”
Sequestration was intended to be bad public policy, but its consequences are exaggerated. “I think the administration is trying to make it look as bad as possible, because they are trying to scare people,” Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office and now the president of the American Action Forum, says in an interview.
“They are playing the ‘we are going to have a recession’ card. All of those things are beyond reasonable calculations. We will get up March 2nd. The Western Hemisphere will be intact. The sun will rise.”
The problem in the budget isn’t discretionary spending, it’s in the mandatory accounts that fund entitlement programs. House Republicans passed a smart bill last year that would have replaced the across-the-board reductions with larger, longer-term cuts to those accounts. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to even hold a vote on the measure.
With few viable options left on the table, it appears events will unfold exactly as Mr. Obama asked 18 months ago. It’s not that the sequestration is too extreme; it doesn’t go nearly far enough to turn around a $16.6 trillion debt.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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