After months of political wrangling, "sequestration," which many fear will substantially harm the economy, goes into effect today. Though many of its effects can be put off for another few weeks, the inability of lawmakers to come to an agreement on how to replace "the sequester" by its March 1 deadline is widely seen as another example of Washington's partisan gridlock.
Sequestration has loomed over Washington since the summer of 2011, when it was created as a part of the compromise made by President Obama and congressional Republicans in exchange for Congress raising the debt ceiling. The Budget Control Act of 2011 mandated sequestration—$1.2 trillion in across-the-board government spending cuts—if lawmakers on a bipartisan "super committee" could not agree on a different approach to reaching $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. By indiscriminately cutting both Democratic and Republican sacred cows, social and military programs respectively, sequestration was thought to be a punishment of sorts, to lawmakers on both sides, for failing to come to a deal. Fail the super committee did in the four month period it was given to come up with a deal.
Lawmakers had the many months that followed to replace sequestration, originally set for January 1 of this year, but they were only able to extend the deadline two months—to today—as part of January's "fiscal cliff" deal. At the heart of the impasse is Republican resistance to raising taxes, even in the form of revenue gained by closing tax loopholes. President Obama insists that any deficit deal include revenues as well as spending cuts. Republicans also demand significant changes to entitlement programs to save government money to cut spending, while Democrats prefer to look to the defense budget to cut spending.
Politicians have spent much of the recent weeks blaming one another for the sequestration. Republicans point fingers at President Obama, whose administration, according to Bob Woodward's latest book, originated the idea. Republicans also say Obama already got his revenue victory in the fiscal cliff agreement, which let Bush-era tax cuts expire for top income-earners, and thus they refuse to raise taxes anymore. Meanwhile Obama has blamed sequestration on Republican intransigence, arguing that his re-election proves Americans do not want deficit reduction by spending cuts alone.
Who loses politically with sequestration? Here is the Debate Club's take:
Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College