With the Nov. 6 general elec- tion casting a huge shadow over the federal government, members of Congress are back in Washington to avert a budget crisis; they will then return to the campaign trail. Meanwhile, the American people will be left to wonder if the partisan divide that has come to define Congress’ dysfunction will ever be bridged.
Indeed, the nation will pay an extremely high price if Republicans, who control the House, Democrats, who run the Senate, and Democratic President Barack Obama are unable to find a solution to sequestration — an impressive word that simply means danger, insofar as the nation’s economic health is concerned.
A new White House report warns that the $110 billion across-the-board spending cuts that will go into effect at start of the new year would devastate the country because just about every program would be affected.
Most Pentagon programs would be hit with a 9 percent cut, while many domestic programs would have to absorb an 8 percent reduction.
The process of automatic cuts — sequestration — gives the administration no flexibility in the distribution of the cuts, other than to exempt military personnel and budgets that apply to the nation’s war-fighting capability.
The American people have become familiar with the term “fiscal cliff,” which describes the tenuous position the nation will be in if sequestration is implemented and the Bush era tax cuts expire.
Because the president and Republicans on Capitol Hill were unable to reach a budget and debt reduction deal last summer, we are now forced to face the reality that early next year the collapse of economy will occur.
“Sequestration would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments and core government functions,” the White House report states.
The political finger pointing that has come to define the relationship between the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill has caused the American people to lose faith in their government and to conclude that the partisanship will never end. Thus, the stalemate that gave birth to sequestration will cause other damage to the nation’s economic wellbeing.
The Nov. 6 election, which Republicans hope will render Obama a one-term president, means that nothing will be done to avoid the “fiscal cliff” until the results are confirmed.
Then, Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the White House will have a very limited amount of time to do what is necessary to avoid the devastation that the report on sequestration predicts.
The across-the-board cuts, agreed to by the president and Republicans, were designed to force a supercommittee, made up of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, to reach agreement on a budget deal.
It will come as no surprise that the ideological bent of the two political parties is at the heart of the disagreement. The Republicans believe that tax cuts and spending reductions alone will balance the budget and reduce the nation’s debt. They also want to exempt the Defense Department from any reductions.
Democrats counter that budget cuts alone, with defense exempted, will not produce the results that everyone wants. They say there must be a way to increase revenue and have joined the president in calling for a tax increase for the richest Americans.
The clock is ticking. It is to be hoped that the general election will result in cooler heads prevailing on Capitol Hill.