By Joan Trossman Bien
“Read my lips: I’m not interested in an eleventh hour negotiation,” Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell said to reporters. “It’s pretty clear to me that this sequester is going to go into effect.”
McConnell is gleefully anticipating the collapse of any hope of bipartisanship forged to save the very fragile U.S. economy. That perverse attitude by the second most powerful Republican leader is the best argument for dissolving Congress and starting over from scratch that I have ever heard. That statement was in direct conflict with the sworn duties of a U.S. senator. McConnell is anticipating letting the country’s economy go to hell in order to gain some imagined political advantage. Do politicians go any lower?
Exactly what is the goal of Republicans these days? They say it is to reduce the deficit. Doubtful because if that were the objective, then they would agree to doing whatever is necessary to achieve that end, including raising more revenue. But that is not in their master plan. Instead, they want to eliminate all of the government aid to citizens who sometimes need help.
Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you know what sequestration is? No, it doesn’t mean to sequester or to separate from the group. It means government spending cuts.
If you are finally treading water instead of falling behind, sequestration will fix your wagon. Here’s what’s heading straight at us, scheduled to collide head-on with economic recovery come March 1.
Automatic spending cuts across the board, half from the military, half from domestic programs. The single worst idea to come out of Washington since the Vietnam War. Everyone on Capitol Hill knows that it will be disastrous. Yet Republicans are refusing to stop it because they want the economy to tank, especially for the middle class. Why? They will blame it on Obama and then sweep into power in the 2014 elections. That’s because they think we are dumber than a post.
Republicans are climbing on top of each other to convince us of the fiction that President Obama created this sequestration all by himself.
Same for Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole. “The president accepted no spending cuts back in fiscal cliff deal 45 days ago. So you get no spending cuts back then, then you’re going to get no revenue now.”
So there. Such is the sophisticated level of discussion about our country’s economic future. Graham crackers and nap blankets will be handed out later.
So where did this terrible awful idea of sequestration come from? It all started in 2011 when the Republicans, again towing the party line of one mind, one thought, like the Borg from Star Trek, refused flat out to raise the debt ceiling as had been routinely done in a bipartisan manner for decades. Instead of allowing our country to actually default on its obligations, Republicans did participate in spending the borrowed money, Obama created the Budget Control Act. It was, in itself, an act of desperation. Republicans voted for it.
We all know that this upcoming sequestration was designed to be so disastrous, especially for the military, that it would be the threat that would force both sides to come up with realistic cuts. But for all their blather about putting national security at risk, they prefer to score political points against Obama more than they want to protect this country. Again, what is their sworn duty?
House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said that the budget reductions should be evenly split between spending cuts and raising revenue. She said that doesn’t necessarily mean raising taxes, but instead to chop costly tax subsidies.
Some of the tax loopholes that Democrats want to eliminate are those that benefit Big Oil. “Why should we lower Pell Grants instead of eliminating subsidies for Big Oil?” Pelosi said.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the three biggest oil companies in 2011 made a combined profit of $80 billion. That same year, Big Oil received $2.5 billion in tax breaks, courtesy of you, me, and our taxes.
Pelosi reminded Republicans of a fact that they have conveniently ignored. In just the past two years, $1.6 trillion has been cut, almost exclusively from domestic programs. Instead, they repeat the obvious lie that all of the debt reduction has been on the backs of the truly wealthy. Oh, those poor, poor people making nearly half a billion dollars a year. So sad. C’est tragique. Boo hoo.
Close tax loopholes or fall off the real fiscal cliff. In the end, the sequestration would cost about $1.2 trillion over the next ten years. And that is just fine with Republicans. Anything that will make the government too small to be effective is just what they want. They hate regulations and they despise government oversight. They want to do what they want to do and resent being restricted by Big Government.
How would sequestration play out in ordinary lives? It would significantly reduce funds for law enforcement, education, food safety, small businesses, mental health, medical research, new drug approval, workplace safety, emergency responders (FEMA), IRS accessibility, Native American programs, Headstart, meals for seniors, rental assistance, homeless programs, AIDS and HIV treatment, and so on. You may take some of these government services for granted but when they are no longer available or have been cut back, you will pay attention.
Yes, I am angry. It is disheartening to think how much good could have been done for this country over the past four years but for the infantile brinksmanship of the Republicans.
With one exception. Sen. John McCain has dared to speak the truth, saying that the sequestration must be avoided at all costs. McCain agreed that revenue is part of the solution and that it should come from closing tax loopholes. McCain has shown his fellow conservatives the meaning of statesmanship. He is standing up for what is best for the country, not what is best for his contributors. The Republican leadership has fallen so far that they don’t recognize the good example standing right in from of them. If they did, it might make their selfish behavior look less than dignified.
Joan Trossman Bien has been writing news most of her professional life. She started writing as an intern at KNX Newsradio and wrote as a freelancer at nearly every television station in Los Angeles. She graduated from law school in 2004. At present, she is a regular writer for cover features at the Ventura County Reporter and Pasadena Weekly. She enjoys writing about an array of topics including health care, politics, women’s issues, and social justice. Bien lives with her journalist husband in Ventura County. They have one grown daughter who is also a journalist. Bien hales from Glencoe, Ill., a small suburb outside Chicago.