Today is the day the package of budget cuts they call the "Sequester" takes effect. There will be endless postmortems and realtime analyses. But as its draconian effects, there’s one thing to remember above all: Congress did this.
We’ve criticized both the President’s handling of this situation and the media’s reporting of it. But, in the end, this is an act of Congress. Congress passed the bill that put these cuts into effect, and it can repeal that bill - today, if it so chooses. (Rep. John Conyers has introduced a bill to do exactly that. It's called, reasonably enough, the "Cancel the Sequester Act.")
The “Sequester” follows the long-standing "trigger" strategy we first wrote about in 2011. The idea, which was probably dreamed up by some high-priced consultant, seems to be this: Pass a bill that creates some “trigger” effect at some point in the future. If nothing else is done the “trigger” goes off, and highly unpopular and destructive spending cuts will go into effect as if untouched by human hand.
By using the “trigger” strategy, politicians believed (and apparently still believe) that they can escape the political and moral consequences of their own actions. It wasn’t me that did these things, they can argue, it was the “trigger.”
The forces of austerity have cooked up a number of triggers during their multi-year battle against government, which escalated right after Wall Street decimated the economy. They've had different names: Debt ceiling. "SaveGo." Fiscal cliff. And now, Sequester.
Each was a strategem for imposing austerity economics on an unwilling population. Each was a crude device, a political IED designed to explode after its designers had left the scene of the crime.
We need to make sure the "trigger" strategy doesn’t work this time. It mustn’t work, if we're to stop the seemingly relentless march of corporate- and billionaire-funded austerity.
The Sequester and its harsh consequences were enacted into law by Congress. As its effects reverberate into the lives of millions of Americans, let’s keep the spotlight on the actors as well as the act.
And let's call that act what it is: An act of aggression, aimed at the heart of our nation’s social contract. These destructive and needless cuts, whose only purpose is to benefit the wealthy, are a civic crime. And Capitol Hill is the scene of the crime.
The Sequester's a little bit like the Doomsday Device in Dr. Strangelove, which was automatically triggered too. But there's one major difference: There was no reversing the Doomsday Device once it was set off. The Sequester can be undone at any time. That's what we should be demanding. (You can start here.)
And let's not forget Dr. Strangelove's main point about the Cold War, which was that the world's leaders were acting like ... well, idiots. Once again, we need to demand that our elected representatives stop acting like idiots.
Let's hold the guilty parties accountable, especially as the chaos they've created rains down around us. Let's not forget that the Sequester is really a weapon - a weapon whose purpose is to harm government and those it serves. In the end, that includes all but the most powerful among us. Let's respond in a measured, appropriate, and high-minded way to this act, but let's not forget who's committing the act.
And let's not forget whose finger is on the "trigger."