The False Framing in the Sequestration Debate
When caught up in the height of the deficit hysteria during the debt ceiling fight Congress voted for a set of very stupid across the board cuts known as sequestration. Since Democrats and Republicans couldn’t reach a deal at the time, they thought a great idea was to create a really bad law no one likes to encourage both parties to reach a deal later. Not surprisingly, two groups that couldn’t reach a deal two years ago, a year ago, and again 10 months ago still can’t reach an agreement, so the cuts may actually happen.
Beyond my anger that this idiotic artificial crisis was allowed to be created in the first place, the thing I find most frustrating about this looming problem is how the simplest solution is often getting ignored. The debate is already being framed by some in a pro-austerity manner to make it appear that our options are far more limited than they really are. For example Ezra Klein wrote:
In other words: Spending we consider essential gets the same size cut as spending we consider wasteful. There’s no ability to make the cuts to farm subsidies a bit bigger and the cuts to, say, the FBI a bit smaller. It’s $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction in which we pretty much don’t make a single choice about what is and isn’t worth funding.
Let’s be very clear here: The only thing Congress would need to do to prevent these big, dumb cuts that no one wants would be to agree on an equivalently sized deficit reduction package that they prefer. But thus far, that hasn’t happened.
This is simply not the case. Congress isn’t bound by a law they passed earlier. If Congress doesn’t want these cuts to happen they can simply pass a new law eliminating them. There is no legal need to pay for them. Congress doesn’t actually need to replace them with an equal sized deficit reduction package or any deficit reduction package at all.
Given that the economy is weak and the government’s borrowing costs are at an historic low, passing a new law that simply eliminates the cuts without any pay-for would probably be the best policy for the country.
Members of Congress may prefer not to eliminate the sequestrations without an equal sized deficit package, but this is merely a preference not a necessity. It is not a binary choice between allowing the sequesters or creating a new bi-partisan deficit reduction package. There is the third option of just eliminating the cuts.