The Washington Post

Gaming out sequestration

Republicans and Obama administration officials sparred at a House hearing today over the coming sequester, which was passed in the Budget Control Act last summer and is scheduled to slash both military and non-military spending at the end of the year.

Republicans have chosen to frame the sequester as a liberal plot to destroy the military. Democrats have fought back by noting that most Republicans voted for the sequester, so what right do they have to blame Democrats now?

Both sides, this time, have a point. The larger point, however, is that there’s something very unbalanced about the debate.

Republicans are correct that Democrats insisted on the military cuts. But that sort of misses the point. Think about what each side actually wants. Republicans want to slash non-defense spending, probably including Medicare and Social Security, by far more than the sequester calls for. Indeed, their current proposal is, as the Post reports, to simply “shift scheduled military cuts to domestic programs.”

Democrats do want some military cuts, but that’s not their real preference when it comes to deficit reduction; what they really have asked for is higher taxes on the wealthy. But there’s no automatic tax increase in the Budget Control Act because Republicans wouldn’t sign on to it. Republicans would rather have a higher deficit, or even the military cuts they’re now complaining about, then have Joe Plutocrat kick in even a dime more in taxes.

What does that mean for sequestration? The bottom line is that thanks to the above Republican priorities, the sequester itself is unbalanced. It’s all spending cuts, and no tax increases. We’re still trapped in the same place we were when the supercommittee — and by extension, the sequester — were originally set up. Until Republicans agree to new revenues, or agree to accept defense cuts — which is to say, until Republicans agree to some kind of compromise — then the debate will remain unbalanced and our problems won’t be solved.


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