Sequester, v(erb). … to takeover, to confiscate, especially by authority. (per Webster’s Dictionary)
The notorious government Sequester (now a proper noun) took effect March 1, an Act of Congress that grew out of an extended series of partisan Congressional squabbles over taxes, spending cuts and debt ceiling increases.
It calls for both added revenue, and across the board cuts in defense spending, and in discretionary domestic programs, except for social security, health care, and interest payments.
Its target: reduction of $1.2 trillion over 10 years from levels that would occur if no action is taken. The terms of the Sequester give agencies little authority to choose where cuts are to be made. Good programs will suffer along with marginal ones.
This is a self-inflicted wound, enacted to avert a previous perceived fiscal crisis. The creators believed that its terms were so harsh on the military (dear to Republicans) and domestic programs (cherished by Democrats) that the parties would be forced to come together to agree on a more thoughtfully designed deficit reduction package of spending cuts and increased revenues. Sadly, however, “coming together” seems missing from current political vocabulary of either party, and so the sequester became effective on March first.
The Sequester’s impact will be felt first by government workers and government contractors. The states hardest hit will include Virginia, because of the heavy concentration of government employees in the Washington area, and the military establishments around Norfolk. So, many of our neighbors may be furloughed; others may see their companies lose contracts, and thus employment as well. Those hurts will quickly migrate into the general economy, as people whose incomes are cut spend less on the goods and services that others provide.
And the harm of the Sequester’s indiscriminate, mandated cuts goes far beyond that. Our nation depends on government investments– education of its people from infancy to retirement, basic research in science and technology, and upgrading of infrastructure – roads, communications and air traffic control included – in order to remain a great power and a happy home for our children.
So we may all be sequestration victims if the inability or unwillingness of our elected officials to compromise and to act in the nation’s interest persists.
But there are some glimmers of hope. The stock market is hitting new highs, reflecting healthy earnings and an optimistic outlook for publicly owned companies. The authors of a previous deficit reduction plan – former US Senator Alan Simpson (R) and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (D) – have updated their comprehensive bi-partisan proposal with a balanced portfolio of revenue increases and spending cuts.
And President Obama has hosted a dinner with a group of Republican senators to discuss the dilemma the nation faces. Assuming that “discussion” includes listening, the dinner may produce results. Keep your fingers crossed.
So much for the short term Sequester problem: For ideas on what we might do to correct the underlying instabilities in our political system, stay tuned.
Bruce Smart is a retired businessman and former U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade.