What is sequestration? Why does it matter?Posted by on February 24, 2013
What is sequestration?
You have heard this term in the news, often with examples of an impact on government services. So, what is sequestration?
Basically, it means severe, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to government programs. It does not mean thoughtful decisions to cut programs based on their merits.
About half of the current sequestration cuts will hit the Department of Defense, and the rest are to non-defense programs. Many entitlement programs are protected from the sequester and will not be cut. Therefore, the cuts will fall heavier on the parts of the budget that has not been protected.
When do these cuts begin?
They are scheduled to begin on March 1. The cuts were supposed to begin in January, but Congress passed a two-month delay.
How did sequestration begin?
In the summer of 2011, Republican legislators refused to raise the US debt limit in order to pay our debts. The ensuing budget fight was a near-catastrophe for America because we almost went into default for essentially refusing to pay our debts. In fact, a major credit rating agency downgraded US debts.
Congress broke the stalemate by passing the bipartisan Budget Control Act (BCA). Under this law, the debt ceiling would be raised until December 2012 in exchange for $2 trillion in spending cuts. The BCA also established the so-called Super Committee to recommend a balanced deficit reduction package. In the event the Super Committee failed, the BCA provided for brutal across-the-board cuts – known as “sequestration” or “the sequester.”
The Super Committee failed to find common-sense agreement on addressing the debt. Sequestration was never supposed to happen. It was only set up as a tool to force action or serve as the proverbial stick. But now, because of political games, it may actually go into effect.
Why not cut spending to bring down debt?
Yes, spending needs to be cut. But the sequester is like a lawnmower that whacks both your grass and your flowers. We need thoughtful spending cuts based on the merits of specific programs, such as protecting job training or medical research. These cuts set to go into effect are ugly and will cause disruptions in the economy. I believe Congress should go back to the table and find common ground with an eye of growing America's future prosperity. I do not believe the anti-government philosophy that has prevailed lately is neither wise nor pro-growth.
For more information, you may want to read what the Congressional Budget Office says about the cuts and the economy. The Appropriations Committee has also created a report on the possible impact of sequestration.
The opinions expressed below are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily represent those of this office.
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