Even though the deadline for sequestration has come and passed, its impacts still haven’t really gone into effect, and the negotiation is just beginning. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the political maneuvering that’s occurring, as it offers more twists than a good spy novel.
The first interesting fact is that when the Obama administration hatched the idea of sequestration, it was convinced Republicans would never allow it happen because of the risks to the defense budget. Under sequestration, defense was slated to suffer a hugely disproportionate share of the cuts – well over 200% more than any other area.
And, while the Obama administration hates the idea of spending cuts, it’s long desired to cut the defense budget – it just wasn’t politically feasible. Thus, in some respects, sequestration doesn’t sound like a bad idea to Democrats, as entitlements are untouched and defense gets hammered.
Meanwhile, Republicans loathe the cuts in defense but don’t mind the forced overall cuts. After all, it fits their desire to quell the federal government’s spending binge, which they haven’t been able to accomplish politically. Thus, the irony of the sequester deal is that both camps are getting what they wanted, at the same time that they aren’t.
The next interesting point is that both sides have much to lose in this debate. Of course, spending cuts is a misrepresentation, as there are no real spending cuts (except to defense); it’s just a reduction in spending increases. But if slowing the growth in spending is perceived as being too painful, the Republicans have little to no chance of actually getting the government back to a balanced-budget scenario. Thus, the great irony is that Republicans are trying to make the cuts as painless as possible, while Democrats want the cuts to be as painful as possible. Still, Democrats would rather not have the cuts at all. Are you thoroughly confused now?
The whole episode regarding a furlough of USDA meat inspectors is a prime example of how this game is being played out. This week, USDA announced it planned to furlough thousands of inspectors for 11 days, but the furloughs would be spread out over time to minimize the effect, and wouldn’t start until July.
The administration’s game plan seems to want to make the cuts seem as dire and painful as possible, in order to force Republicans to blink and accept revenue increases. At the same time, the administration wants to build the perception that it seeks to minimize the furloughs’ impacts. The reality, however, is that food inspection is a miniscule part of USDA’s budget, but it greatly impacts the industry and consumers; thus, it’s the perfect area to use as a chip in this Washington game.
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I’ve always felt that a third-party movement was idealism running wild over pragmatism – the classic example of cutting off your nose to spite your face. The Tea Party, the Green Party and even the Libertarian party may all closely represent the ideals of their members, but the net effect of these groups from an electoral standpoint has been that their efforts have ended up electing candidates more opposed to their views than aligned with them.
I understand we’re stuck with a two-party system, and thus it makes sense to work within that system. But with the latest approval ratings of the House and Senate at 19% and 12%, respectively, the sentiment for a third party is very understandable. Perhaps we’re going to have to throw them all out in order to send the message to Washington that the people’s desires are more important than election outcomes. Sadly, the current system’s focus seems to simply be the inverse of that.
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