Bizarrely, Republicans are beginning to strut about sequestering America. Sequestration budget cuts – the automatic, mindless across-the-board annual cuts of roughly $100 billion from military and domestic spending – were designed to be repugnant. Legislators, it was assumed, would overcome partisan division to come up with something else less destructive.
There’s grumbling that shows how it was supposed to work. Senior House Republicans in charge of appropriating funds for government are in open revolt against the cuts. “The House has made its choice: sequestration — and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts — must be brought to an end,” Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky said after he was forced to pull the transportation funding bill from the floor for lack of votes. House Budget Committee Chair Rep. Paul Ryan entered into the current budget negotiations confident that they could come up with something “smarter.”
Hawkish Republicans like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham warn the military sequester cuts “jeopardize our national security.”
But Republicans can’t cut a deal. Their first principle isn’t deficit reduction; it is shielding corporations and the wealthy from paying a penny in increased taxes. No shuttering of tax havens that allows companies like Apple to dodge billions in tax liability. No minimum tax so that billionaires don’t pay a lower rate than their secretaries.
Their second rule is no retreat on spending cuts. Any new spending must be “paid for” by other spending cuts. So any relief from sequestration cuts must be “paid for,” despite the fact that the deficit is coming down faster than any time since the demobilization after World War II and is costing jobs and slowing any recovery.
Unable to agree on anything else, Republicans have decided to boast about sequestering America. Senior Senate Republican Charles Grassley says that “sequestration is working.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has led the charge, telling Republicans to stay the course, arguing that the sequestration cuts have been “highly successful.”
This is truly bizarre. Sequestration cuts are as repugnant as advertised – and will get worse as bureaucracies exhaust ways to mitigate them. They cut the necessary as deeply as the needless. They gore the vulnerable as well as the baroque. Reports tell the stories of infants losing access to vital nutrition, children thrown out of Head Start, schools forced to lay off teachers and crowd classrooms. The best young scientists are laid off, and look abroad for employment. An already inadequate food and drug inspection gets even worse.
And these cuts sequester America’s future. There is a broad consensus – embraced by the Chamber of Commerce as well as the AFL-CIO – that investment in our decrepit infrastructure should be vastly expanded. Conservatives and liberals alike understand the need for the government to expand support for research and development, science and technology. Conservative researchers at the Federal Reserve extol universal pre-K as an investment that saves money: children more ready to learn cost less in truancy, crime, prisons, depression and health care. But these common sense investments are simply sequestered.
Sequestration costs jobs and slows any recovery. Republicans have no alternative strategy for growth. Corporate tax cuts don’t work because corporations are already sitting on trillions in profits waiting for customers to show up. Top end tax cuts won’t work because the wealthiest are already pocketing virtually all of the rewards of growth. Deficit reduction only cuts jobs without reducing interest rates which the Federal Reserve is already holding close to zero. A surge in exports won’t happen with Europeans, Japan and the Chinese all looking to capture export markets by lowering their currencies.
Cynics suggest this is purposeful. Next November, “Obama’s failed economy” will be a Republican campaign mantra. They will seek to benefit from the economic troubles that they have helped to create.
The cynicism seems even more plausible as we descend into yet another manufactured budget crisis. Budget committee negotiators are tasked with coming up with an agreement by mid-December. If they fail, a last-minute deal will be needed to keep the government from another shutdown in mid-January.
Whatever the deal, it is likely to be small. There will be no serious investment in areas vital to America’s future. Corporate tax dodging will remain an open scandal. Machinists and teachers will still pay a higher tax rate than the Mitt Romneys. And Congress will continue to sequester America. At this point, Americans will have to force the change. And to do so, they will have to be clear about who is standing in the way.