The budget process has been exasperating and appears to be never-ending. Although we like to think we avoided the cliff at the end of the year, the cliff was just relocated down the road. Now the sequester cliff falls on March 1. “Sequester,” for the uninitiated, is a word that means arbitrary, across the board equal cuts, over good and bad programs at a level so devastating that the hope was that Democrats and Republicans would do the right thing to avoid them.
Except of course it doesn’t look like a deal to avoid it is in the works.
One of the problems is the mythology that surrounds budget history.
Many members of Congress and media have invented the mythology that previous budget agreements have only raised taxes in return for a mere promise to make cuts at some later date. That is, real current tax hikes for the illusion of future spending cuts. The statement below by head of the Republican Study Conference Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH ) is typical:
Not one of the scheduled cuts, not one of the promised cuts in the debt ceiling agreement last summer, not one of them have taken place yet and it’s now time to raise the debt ceiling again.
So this idea of let us borrow more and we’ll cut spending later, let us tax more and we’ll cut spending later, doesn’t work. And the American people are tired of it.
This is Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football. Every time Charlie Brown thinks this time she’ll actually hold the ball, it never works. You cannot buy what the White House is telling you. They’ve never kept their word on taxes. Why would they do it now?
But the facts are almost the opposite. Repeated, real spending cuts in return for a possibility (not even a promise) of future tax hikes. Here’s what actually happened. In 2011, the President and Republican leaders agreed to $1.5 trillion (yes, trillion) in spending cuts over 10 years as part of the Budget Control Act. The first two years of reductions are already in place, with the possibility that the sequester will come in and make even more drastic cuts. That agreement to cap discretionary spending over ten years was to get Republicans to allow the debt ceiling to be increase. That agreement included zero tax increases. Recently, Republican leader Boehner admitted as much to the Wall Street Journal. During the debate on the emergency funding for Hurricane Sandy, the Republican head of the Appropriations Committee said the exact opposite of Mr. Jordan. Chairman Hal Rogers noted:
Now, I don't take a back seat to anyone when it comes to cutting spending. Since I've chaired this committee the last 2 years, we've cut $100 billion off of discretionary spending, 2 years in a row, going on a third. That's not happened since World War II. So I know whereof I speak.”
So we have already implemented and banked $200 billion in cuts towards the $1.5 trillion ten-year budget caps and again those cuts and do not include the looming sequester.
The cuts in that agreement hurt environmental protection, our infrastructure and our parks. Hundreds of communities have lost federal funds to provide clean water to their communities; EPA enforcement has weakened and critical scientific research on environmental health flounders. On top of these cuts, the sequester would dramatically increase the pain on those same programs.
It is time to stop holding our air, water, food and wildlife hostage. Cutting the programs that every Americans relies on won’t dent the deficit, nor will forcing the country into default protect our children’s economic future. Instead of allowing the arbitrary sequestration cuts, we need a balanced approach that increases revenues by getting rid of wasteful subsidies such as tax breaks given to the richest oil and gas companies in the world. Congress should approve a long-term plan that protects our health and environment, strengthens our economy and invests in the future.