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Originally published Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: Congress should compromise to avoid sequestration

Congress should avoid the sequester by doing what it was supposed to do: reach a deal on taxing and spending that will reduce the deficit.

Seattle Times Editorial

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REPUBLICANS and Democrats in Congress now blame the others for the crisis of “sequestration.” Both groups are responsible.

Sequestration is a gimmick. It is putting up a block in the road by people who have to travel past it. “Don’t slam into this block,” the sign says. “It will hurt.”

It will hurt here. One category of cuts will be in medical research grants to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington. Shutting down medical research makes no sense. More than 30,000 civilian Defense Department employees in the Northwest face pay cuts. And there are other severe effects.

The purpose of the sequester was to force a compromise, which would make the roadblock go away. Congress could have made such a compromise, but it didn’t.

The Republicans didn’t want to raise taxes. But tax revenues as a share of the economy have been at the lowest figures in decades. “No taxes” is not a reasonable stand, nor is a dogmatic defense of military spending.

The Democrats didn’t want to cut social spending. Some, including U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., dogmatically oppose cuts of any kind in Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. But with the aging of the population, these programs are unsustainable in their current form. “No cuts” is not a reasonable stand.

Both sides need to give.

To raise revenue, Congress can cap the income-tax deduction for mortgage interest. It can tax dividends as ordinary income. It can impose Social Security taxes on more of high earners’ incomes. It can raise Medicare premiums for people of higher incomes.

To cut spending, Congress can adopt a “chained” Consumer Price Index for federal benefit programs. It can cut crop supports for corn, wheat, soybeans and rice. It can withdraw from Afghanistan sooner and close foreign military bases. It can cut back on federal grants for cultural programs.

With each of these things, there is some lawmaker saying, “Not this.” Some of them will have to lose.

The alternative is to hit the roadblock. Lawmakers can remove it, of course: They put it there. But politicians did it to force themselves to do unpleasant work, and the work still needs to be done.

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