Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chicken

Once upon a time (actually it was on August 2, 2011, the date Congress passed something called the Budget Control Act of 2011) Congress agreed that they had to do something to reduce budget deficits over the next ten years. Pretty much everyone agreed to that, even Democrats. What they could not agree upon, however, was how to do it. So Congress devised this horrible thing called the sequester, which was a package of automatic spending cuts, half to Defense and half to domestic spending, that were originally supposed to take effect on January 1, 2013. The important thing to understand about the sequester is that it was deliberately designed to be something that almost nobody wanted. The whole, entire idea of the sequester was to force Congress to enact some kind of sensible deficit-reducing plan, because if they failed to do so, the horrible sequester that nobody wanted would take effect.

So Congress created the so-called super-committee to come up with something better. Guess what? They couldn't agree on anything.

So then Congress decided to just wait until after the 2012 election, which both parties thought might increase their leverage. The Republicans lost, and Congress somehow managed to fix all the other horrible things that were supposed to happen on January 1, but guess what? They still can't agree on how to avoid the dreaded sequester. All they could do was agree to extend the deadline to March 1, 2013.

Because nobody wants this ugly sequester, it has become a popular sport of late to blame others for creating it. John Boehner for some reason thinks it's very important right now to blame President Obama for creating the sequester. This is a big talking point of his right now. But take a look at who voted for the Budget Control Act. In the House, 174 House Republicans and 95 Democrats voted for it. 66 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted against it. In other words, Democrats were split down the middle on the sequester. Republicans were for it three to one. And the public believes, by a fairly substantial margin, that if the sequester happens, it will be mostly the Republicans' fault.

Another Republican tactic represents further revisionist history. That is to say that since President Obama got some tax hikes to avoid the fiscal cliff, but no spending cuts, that now the only way to avoid the sequester must be to make only cuts, no revenues. But those tax hikes were coming anyway, when the Bush tax cuts expired, and the fact is that most of the Bush tax cuts were allowed to continue. The sequester, on the other hand, was always designed as a package of spending cuts that nobody wanted, to force a different deficit-reducing package that both parties would have to agree on. And Democrats have always maintained that that package had to include a balance of revenue and cuts.

And so the latest tactic of the Republicans is now to say, hey, maybe the dreaded sequester won't be so bad after all. And if it is bad, we'll just blame the Democrats for it. I guess they are counting on people having a short memory. Maybe people will forget that a majority (mostly Republicans) in Congress voted for the Budget Control Act, and that the whole point of the Budget Control Act was to create a doomsday device that would force the parties to agree on something better.

I was thinking of writing a sophisticated analysis of these negotiations, as I tried to do with the fiscal cliff negotiations, but it's just impossible. There is nothing sophisticated about this at all. It is about as sophisticated as a game of chicken. It is about as sophisticated as a child screaming that if he doesn't get his way, he will take his ball and bat and go home and nobody will get to play.

still from Rebel Without a Cause

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