Sequestration, our fiscal Doomsday Machine
Congress and the White House are playing dangerous games with the nation’s future and a key economic asset: stability.
Times editorial columnist
Hundreds of seemingly clueless individuals are caught up in the politics of the moment, with no apparent awareness of their distance and detachment from those they represent.
Yes, Friday, March 1 is a big day at the Vatican, with a parallel drama in Congress with the expected arrival of the dreaded budget sequester.
In theory, popes do not resign and elected officials do not watch as the daily work of government implodes around them.
Now two institutions conspicuously reveal they are more interested in their own agendas than the roles of duty and service they are expected to fulfill.
The budget sequester is bizarre, with its $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts in federal programs over the next seven months. Pentagon spending is cut 13 percent, and nondefense spending is cut 9 percent.
Of course, this was not supposed to happen. A White House teleconference Monday for regional journalists repeated that curious point.
Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, emphasized the sequester was designed to be bad policy that would force both sides to come to the table.
Right, make it really stupid and imagine something constructive might result. As the showdown loomed, each side misread the other. Democrats never thought Republicans would abide stiff defense cuts, and the GOP assumed the Dems would cave over nondefense spending.
If the worst expectations come to pass — if the sequester is not rescinded by Congress today, tomorrow, next week or next month — Washington and every other state will see money slashed for special-ed teachers, unemployment insurance, airport security, vaccines, food inspectors and nutrition for seniors. Research dollars evaporate at the University of Washington.
This is not an arcane political-science debate. The lives of millions of ordinary Americans will be affected, right down to recovery efforts for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Budget cuts that hurt real people.
This event echoes another crisis involving a midcentury chief executive, President Merkin Muffley. He got caught up in a confrontation with Russia’s premier when the renegade commander of a U.S. Air Force Base launched an attack against the Soviet Union.
Turns out the pesky commies had a “Doomsday Machine” that could not be turned off, and it was designed to be so awful no one could imagine anyone falling into the trap. Google “Dr. Strangelove” to learn how it ended.
The sequester is the contemporary Doomsday Machine.
Taxes are the equivalent of “precious bodily fluids” in this modern farce. Allegiance is to cutting taxes, not managing or paying for a coherent system of government.
American taxpayers have every right to wonder where members of Congress put their loyalty. Outrage at the contagion of tax avoidance in this country would be welcome.
A 16-page report in the Feb. 16-22 issue of The Economist lays out the outrageous details of offshore financial centers — home to perhaps $21 trillion stashed away from the tax collector and from paying a fair share of the cost of public services prosperous companies and wealthy individuals use.
Chase down the money, and the federal debt would evaporate. Yes, indeed, do the rigorous work of budget reviews and budget cutting. But ensure everyone pays their fair share.
Decrepit tax-collection systems and laws that embolden corporations and individuals to employ elaborate avoidance schemes are sticking it to the people the tea-party politicians claim to represent.
Vulgar political gimmicks such as sequestration erode a key economic asset of the United States: stability. Congress and the White House are playing dangerous games with our future.
Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is email@example.com