Sequestration: Who’s To Blame?

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

sequestrationThere’s no doubt about it: If sequestration happens – and it is looking increasingly like it will, come March 1 – the across-the-board, indiscriminate spending cuts are going to have an impact on military families. We are already seeing it happen with the cancellation of the deployment of an entire carrier task force.

The National Military Family Association has published a useful corrective to dispel some of the myths surrounding sequestration and its effects. Meanwhile, the politicians and their toadies are working overtime as the deadline looms. No, not to solve the problem and come to a workable deal to avert it – but to make sure that the other side gets the blame.

So who is to blame for sequestration? The answer is clear: All of us.

For generations, Congressmen have been larding up the defense budget with non-essential programs. Senator Coburn has published a partial guide to the most egregious of stupid Pentagon expenses in his report, The Department of Everything.

And voters have tolerated it. In fact, we have encouraged it. We have repeatedly rewarded Congressmen who put their district interests over the mission by donating to them and reelecting them. This is true of both parties. Neither the Democrats nor Republicans have a lock on them.

 

Who’s idea was it anyway?

Sequestration was Obama’s idea. Or, at least, the concept of using sequestration – on the theory that nobody wanted it – as an incentive for Congress to strike a deal was originated as a White House proposal. President Obama has recently said that sequestration “is not something that I have proposed.” This is a lie.

It was the White House staff – specifically Jack Lew, who concocted the idea as a way to give the Republicans a face-saving way out of the debt-ceiling impasse of 2011. Republicans had vowed not to vote to increase the debt limit – that is, the President’s legal authority to borrow money for the treasury – unless there were significant spending cuts. According to reporting by Bob Woodward, Lew went to the President for his blessing on the proposal – and he received it.

Obama is so distant from the sequester that he recently nominated the sequestration’s architect as his Treasury Department nominee. So either the President backed the idea and thought it good policy, or he is in the habit of promoting bad policymakers to cabinet-level positions.

At any rate, once Lew’s office, acting on behalf of the White House and with the President’s personal authority, presented sequestration to Congress, Republicans wasted no time voting for it. The vote among Republicans was 218 in favor, and 33 opposed. The measure passed by three votes, though not a single House Democrat voted in favor.

To put a finer point on it:

1.Sequestration was Obama’s proposal.

2. Once proposed, Republicans voted overwhelmingly, 218 to 33, in favor of the bill that contained sequestration.

3. All House 188 Democrats voted against it, except for 5 abstaining.

 

And once they did pass it, Obama promptly signed it. At that moment, it ceased to matter who first floated the proposal. All parties who voted for the Budget Control Act own it, lock, stock and barrel – as does the President whose signature the law bears.

At the time, only the House of Representatives was controlled by Republicans – fresh from a resounding Tea Party victory in 2010. The Senate and Presidency were in Democratic hands. Any one of these bodies could have prevented sequestration from taking effect – and none of them did.

For good or for ill, the effects of sequestration fall equally at the feet of the GOP controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

But the plan also made it through the Senate, which Democrats control. And Obama doubled down on the plan in November 2011, when he vowed that he would veto any half-measures that would mitigate the negative effects of sequestration.

“Already some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts,” said the President in a White House press conference. “My message to them is simple. NO. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one.”

Moreover, the Democrat-controlled Senate has not passed a budget since 2009. Instead, they passed a series of continuing resolutions. There are tactical reasons for this: They would expose themselves to attacks from Republicans for any tax increases on one hand, and liberal interest groups for spending cuts on the other, with no compensation. No budget that passed a Democratic Senate would be likely to pass in the House. So they were content to sit on their hands and fire barbs at Paul Ryan – head of the House budget committee and the GOP nominee in 2012 for Vice President – for cutting grandma’s Medicare.

 

So why are the cuts so stupid?

The cuts are stupid because politics is stupid. Even Congress knows this, which is why they don’t even trust themselves with base closures. Instead, they create base closing commissions so they don’t have to make tough decisions.

But politics being what it is, the continuing resolutions tie the President’s hands, and the SECDEF’s hands. They cannot unilaterally decide to eliminate funding for stupid DoD programs, because Congress has specifically directed them to fund these particular programs. The SECDEF therefore has very limited authority to direct the transfer of funds from nonessential line items and redirect them to essential ones. This is why the DoD schools – bloated beyond belief with administrative staff, must furlough classroom teachers right along with desk jockeys in the head office.

That’s why the DoD cannot let its grass grow a little long in order to keep your post day care facility running at capacity. Military day care centers will have to cut back staffing and possibly send children home. Care provided will be slashed along with deferrable post maintenance funds. Civilian employees working providing care to sick and injured veterans will get furloughed right along with those who do nothing but manage spreadsheets.

And neither side is particularly interested in changing that. The President is more interested in ensuring Republicans get blamed for sequestration than in presenting plans that will allow him to move money around to prioritize spending.

 

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