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Why the Sequester Strategy Is Doomed to Fail

not enough pressure for the big fix

The original idea behind the sequester was to make the cuts so stupid, needlessly painful, and poorly designed that everyone would eventually clamor for a grand bargain deficit reduction plan to replace it. This might even have worked if the sequester caused everything to go to hell on a single day. The big problem, though, is that is simply not how the federal budget works.

Instead of the sequester being one day when lots of things went wrong, it is many small problems that slowly emerge, one at a time, over months. That latest to emerge is the FAA furloughs causing delays at airports.

These airport delays are a real problem and members of Congress want to see it fixed. At the same time, the desire to reduce some waits at the airport is not enough to pressure members into backing a sweeping deficit package. Even President Obama now accepts simply stopping airport delays is too small a cudgel to get Congress to adopt a massive new law.

To deal with this one immediate problem Congress is likely to adopt a narrow solution. This is how Congress has so far dealt with previous problems caused by the sequester, like furloughing meat inspectors. It created small targeted fixes as each significant problem crops up.

This dynamic is likely going to render the sequester completely ineffective as a tool to spur a big deficit plan. Every time one issue with the sequester is fixed with a narrow solution, it signals to members of Congress the fastest way to address a sequester problem is with another small fix. In addition, every time the sequester is improved with a minor change it reduces the need for a sweeping replacement.

The sequester has turned out to be a massive political miscalculation.

Photo by AndrewC75 under Creative Commons license

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is now living in the Washington DC area. He created a politics and policy blog, The Walker Report (