Muller: When it comes to sequestration, everyone is to blame


Yoni Muller, Columnist

On March 1, $85 billion in automatic spending cuts, commonly referred to as sequestration, took effect. By some estimates, these cuts are expected to slow GDP growth by 0.6 percent and cost roughly 750,000 jobs. Rather than try to work together to create a bearable alternative to the problem, politicians have resorted to the classic finger-pointing strategy. I, for one, couldn’t be happier because it’s a rare instance in which both political parties are actually right about something – it’s progress!

The fact of the matter is, no matter who screams “it wasn’t me” loudest (extra points if you do it to Sean Hannity), both parties are to blame for the cuts.

Roughly 90 percent of readers will be at frenzy mode at this point because surely this must be just the Republican Party’s issue, right? So let me start by saying that House Republicans are absolutely responsible for this policy failure (just not solely). When, in 2011, the GOP tried to use defaulting on government debt as leverage to cut spending, they refused to include revenue increases, even by closing loopholes or ending $4 billion in tax subsidies to oil companies; they refused to get tougher on defense spending. Republicans, notably Paul Ryan, pushed for hundreds of billions in cuts to Social Security and Medicaid. Sequestration only ever became a possibility because an automatic mechanism was needed that would be so painful that no member of Congress would want to see it realized.

When it came time to put that theory to the test, Republicans decided they already have billions in spending cuts ready to go. Sure, they wanted to spare defense spending, but the more than $40 billion that would be taken from discretionary spending was a dream come true for them – giving them the incentive they needed to not pass anything with revenue increases or smaller cuts on non-defense spending.

And this is the part where everyone hates me again: I believe that, while the Republicans behaved far from responsibly in the matter, they weren’t alone. Bob Woodward recently reported the idea for sequestration was not formed by the six members of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, but rather by the White House itself.

That changes things pretty drastically. President Barack Obama, who has been going on a national tour criticizing the sequester, who said during a presidential debate that he did not propose the idea, approved it all along. The deal made that allowed the bill – with sequestration – to pass in 2011 was a raise in the debt ceiling. So when Obama starts chastising Republicans for refusing to raise revenues at all, he’s criticizing Republicans for following the original plan.

That’s not to say GOP members shouldn’t raise revenues at all – of course they should. This culture of crusading against any Republican who’s open to the notion of attacking the deficit from both sides, with Grover Norquist using tactics that only appear in my scariest dreams, has gone too far and must come to an end. But this is not the battle that is meant to force that result. And if Congressional Democrats refuse to have a discussion about serious entitlement reform and heavy spending cuts, as was the original intent of the sequester, than they aren’t doing their jobs either.

Even more importantly, this revelation raises questions about Obama’s leadership skills. Because he approved the idea, he must have believed it would motivate Congress to craft a legitimate reduction plan. However, did he not know who he was dealing with? Republicans have, for all of their faults, been completely clear and unwavering about their mission to reduce spending and keep revenues from rising even one cent. Sequestration practically gave the GOP everything they wanted, so long as they could swallow $40 billion in military cuts as well. Obama’s failure to recognize this and anticipate the Republican reaction is a serious failure of leadership on his part.

Regardless, these cuts have officially taken place. We now face employee furloughs, reduced spending or critical programs, and lack of funding for education. So pretty, pretty please, can everyone stop pointing fingers and come up with a viable solution? Or, if that fails, blame Bob Woodward.

Yoni Muller is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]