Jaime Answers Your Sequestions

I’m as sick as anyone hearing about the fiscal cliff and I’m guessing Congress was as well, which is why they set up the sequester as a looming bipartisan disaster to force their hands into creating a workable budget.

A day is fast approaching in which Democrats and Republicans, lefty liberal commies and right-wing tea party gun nuts will break ground in something we have not seen in recent memory: they will agree on something.

Put away your party hats and pause kumbaya, however, because agreeing that the upcoming sequester means disaster for programs that serve the American populace and agreeing on what to do about it are two very different things. So different, in fact, that the indiscriminate cuts that will galvanize so many important programs might be unstoppable.

“Sequester” was once a fairly obscure word in American political jargon, its use reserved mostly for those who worked in and around the government. Because we are the recipients of a fear-based media template, the term has entered the mainstream lexicon via the newsreels. But that doesn’t mean we all understand what it means. At least, I didn’t.  So I looked it up so as to educate myself. I share it with you here as your President’s Day gift.

You’re welcome.

From what I’ve discerned, the sequester was put in place during the debt ceiling negotiations in 2011. I’m as sick as anyone hearing about the fiscal cliff and I’m guessing Congress was as well, which is why they set up the sequester as a looming bipartisan disaster to force their hands into creating a workable budget. I can relate to this, even if I’m disappointed that this is what it needed to come to. I used to do the same thing in college: levy some kind of punishment like an guillotine over my head in order to make myself turn a paper in by deadline. If I didn’t get my work done, that’s it: only well drinks for me. In this case, the hangover didn’t fit the crime.

In a similar fashion, President Obama and House speaker John Boehner helped to author the sequester in order to motivate both sides into passing a workable budget. They made the alternative so unappealing to both parties so as to force them into compromise mode.

Shit’s getting real.

Instead of promising a party with martinis and cupcakes to reward the acts of doing their jobs, we’ve moved onto phase two: punishment if they don’t.  Mom is on the top of the steps counting one…two…You know you’re in trouble if she ever reaches three.  For the purpose of this metaphor, the part of mom will be played by Leon Panetta, who is warning that the sequester could undermine national security.  According to the New York Times, “the cuts to already pared-down domestic spending will set back critical needs like cancer research; Head Start, the preschool program for low-income children; and funding for the Border Patrol. The U.S. economic recovery would be impeded, at a cost of as many as 750,000 jobs.”

The shit hits the fan precisely on March 1st in form of across the board cuts of ten percent of the budget, affecting defense and domestic spending. The right is digging in their heels, saying that cuts need to be made to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. The left wants to extend the tax increases for the wealthy. The right is determined to decrease spending to make a serious dent in the deficit, while the left maintains that sensible spending in needed programs will increase revenue in the long term.

Recommendations have been sent forth by institutions like the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission that suggest concessions by both parties as an alternative to the sequester. Bowles-Simpson recommends a $350 million dollar cut to Medicare that affects only the most affluent of recipients. S-B (lucky for acronym makers that Simpson got top billing) also allows for more tax increases (including the ending of Bush’s tax cuts for those making over $250,000, as well as taxing capital gains and dividends on normal income) and increases the age of Social Security eligibility to 68 in 2050 and 69 in 2075. There’s also a fifteen-cent raise in gas tax.

While it seems politicians on both sides of the aisle pay lip service to Simpson-Bowles, it has been accepted and rejected in equal parts by both parties who fear not only economic Armageddon, but personal political hell. How they duke it out from here on out, taking tips from Simpson-Bowles or The Center for American Progress, will be entertainment for us to watch as the clock ticks toward deadline.

We’ll just hope that the party is worth the hangover.

Author: Jaime Franchi

Jaime Franchi is a freelance writer living on Long Island. Her work can be found on Salon.com, Milieu Magazine, Punchnel's and the New York Times. www.JaimeFranchi.com

6 thoughts on “Jaime Answers Your Sequestions”

  1. Thanks for doing the research. I’m convinced that the party is going to be unpleasant and the hangover is going to be painful. Can we get some teetotalers involved?

  2. the president demonstrates, once again, how to get the GOP to hang itself out to dry. by its thumbs. up a creek. to mix every meta i can think of this un-hung-over monday. great piece, jaime.

  3. @Candace – thank you! This term does so far seem to be one of endless rope-letting for the GOP with which to hang itself. Stay tuned.

  4. The president got some of the tax increases (impacting some 75% of taxpayers) he wanted in the fiscal ‘cliff’ deal. Now he wants more to avoid what now seems to be an imminent sequestration(sp) process. He certainly may get the increases yet, as there is still time for him to dominate the enemy, since what is left of the Republican Party is like a big bloated captive bowl of Jello. (the rest of that beast will be destroyed in the 2014 midterms, and good riddance already). It can be roiled aplenty and will turn all red in the face, but in the end it will just jiggle a lot and not really go anywhere.

    The cuts entailed in any sequester amount itself in relation to national spending and debt are a joke. Despite the forced cuts, gov’t spending would actually increase in 2013, then figuratively decrease after that (if you believe that spending ever actually decreases under an ever-expanding government which it does not, not ever). As for advice on how to deal with the long term debt, the president appointed Simpson-Bowles, and then promptly ignored most of their recommendations. I am not sure why he even bothered to go through the motions of discussing “cuts” or appointing some useless panel in the first place. He’s always known what we want; increased spending on programs that we like, raise taxes proportionally, and the economy will fix itself. It’s worked before. It’s working now. Well, that’s my take anyhow.

  5. I’m really tired of the blatant obstructionism going on with our government. I’m not one to ever say MY party is always right but I will say that the right is almost always wrong.

    This current version of Congress is useless. Obama and Boehner have to call an after school timeout to get their collective asses to sit down together. What next? Paddling with John Boehner’s giant penile compensating gavel?

    I’m MORE than sick of it and really tired of people’s short memory of Mitch McConnell saying right out loud “our number one job is to make Barack Obama a one term President.” Mitch, you bitch, you lost. GTF over it and think about this country and help get your party in order.

    Great piece Jaime and thanks for the education of your readers.

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