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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Sequester is a Penalty, Not a Plan

The President speaking about the sequester with a group of emergency responders who could be affected if federal money is lost due budget cuts
The President speaking about the sequester with a group of emergency responders who could be affected if federal money is lost due budget cuts



Whether you read it online, saw it on the news, or your professor went on a rant about it, you have likely heard that Washington has an accountability problem. Our nation’s leaders — in Congress and in the White House — are often focused more on partisan politics than doing what’s right for our country. They’re focused on scoring points instead of solving problems — and the upcoming sequester is just one more example of it. 

On March 1, our nation is set to hit automatic, across-the-board spending cuts — cuts that were never supposed to happen. So how did we get here?

In July of 2011, Republicans and Democrats were in a standoff on the debt ceiling. Democrats wanted to raise our nation’s spending limit with no restrictions, and Republicans wanted to cut spending to offset raising the ceiling. It came down to the wire — and at the last minute, President Barack Obama and Congress agreed to a deal: they would raise the debt ceiling, and create a Super Committee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in spending cuts by December 23, 2011. But here’s the catch: If the Super Committee didn’t agree on the cuts, the sequester would go into effect on January 1, 2013 — automatic, across-the-board spending cuts split between defense and nondefense discretionary spending. 

At the time, the sequester seemed almost laughable. Everyone “knew” it wasn’t going to happen; everyone “knew” Washington would find another way to reduce spending. But as we came to the end of 2012, our leaders didn’t have time to deal with the sequester — so they kicked the can down the road a few more months to give themselves the opportunity to deal with it.

But here we are — just a few days away from the deadline, and lawmakers haven’t dealt with it. Leaders haven’t even met to talk about the cuts. Instead, they’re spending all their time blaming the other party, making sure they come out on top politically when the dust settles. 

While leaders play political games, they’re not looking out for the best interest of the country. They’re not doing the jobs they were elected to do. In this case, they’re politicians first and lawmakers second. 

This isn’t how our government is supposed to work. The sequester was merely created as a penalty, something for Congress and the president to keep in the back of their minds when they were coming up with a better plan. Decisions shouldn’t be made like that — they should be made by careful deliberation between our lawmakers.

That’s what NoLabels.org, a grassroots movement of hundreds of thousands of Republicans, Democrats and everything in between, is calling for. No Labels is pushing lawmakers to sit down with one another, meet across the aisle, and find solutions to our country’s biggest problems. We’ve already seen huge success with the passage of No Budget, No Pay, a bill we proposed in December of 2011 that was enacted this month and will withhold pay if either chamber of Congress doesn’t pass a budget on time. These are the kind of common-sense reforms our government needs — so that the process leads to problem solving, not more penalties for the American people. 

No one thought the sequester was going to happen. But now we’re just a few days away from the cuts — and lawmakers are more concerned with how the cuts play out politically than what happens to the country. We need a process that works; we need a plan, not a penalty.

Bill Galston is a No Labels Co-Founder, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and former policy advisor to President Clinton.