A Slow-Moving Disaster

Continuing the sequester is by no means as bad as defaulting on the national debt, but it's still a self-inflicted catastrophe.

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Both the New York Times and Politico have reports out today on the debt-ceiling-denial caucus, the Republican lawmakers who believe that defaulting on America's obligations by failing to raise the debt ceiling in a timely fashion would be no big thing. "I think it's a lot of hype that gets spun in the media," said Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho. Pronouncements of a debt ceiling disaster are part of "a false narrative that's been perpetuated by this administration," adds Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

But the Times also noted that some unnamed GOPers believe that breaching the debt ceiling  won't be a catastrophe because, they say, the government shutdown and the budget cuts under the so-called sequester were both supposed to be bad, but so far haven't been:

But the voices of denial are loud and persistent, with some Republicans saying that the fallout from the continuing shutdown and the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration has been less severe than predicted.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the government shutdown.]

Perhaps these unnamed representatives haven't been paying attention, as they've been too busy trying  to deny people health insurance, but the personal and economic effects of both the shutdown and, perhaps more importantly, the sequester, have been serious and extremely detrimental to the country.

For starters, the shutdown is costing the U.S. economy some $300 million per day in economic output. Thousands of children were thrown out of Head Start, mine safety inspections have been cut back and a national computer network that helps track food-borne illnesses was closed down during a salmonella outbreak that, so far, has sickened 278 people in 18 states.

But those effects pale in comparison to those caused by the sequester, the across-the-board automatic spending cuts that came into effect due to the Budget Control Act, which was the piece of legislation that arose out of the last debt ceiling debacle. Here are just some of the problems that have resulted from the abysmally low spending levels under the sequester:

[ See a collection of political cartoons on sequestration and the fiscal cliff.]

And that's only the tip of the iceberg. Just because Republican lawmakers in D.C. haven't noticed these things, doesn't mean they aren't happening. (And matters aren't helped by a media with little patience for slow-moving disasters, which is how the sequester has played out.)

Remember, the sequester was never supposed to actually come into effect. But the sad fact of the current state of play when it comes to the shutdown is that the sequester seems here to stay. Even the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has railed against the deleterious effects of the sequester, is willing to reopen the government at sequester levels of spending; Democrats have already swallowed a bill that would re-open the government with most of the sequester intact.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

In that sense, Republicans have already won when it comes to government spending, which is what a shutdown is traditionally about (though Republicans do have an on-again, off-again love affair with the sequester, which for a time they dubbed the " Obamaquester").

But make no mistake: Funding the government at the level outlined in the sequester means crippling cuts to programs upon which people depend and foregoing crucial investments in the coming years. Continuing the sequester is by no means as bad as defaulting on the national debt, but it's still a self-inflicted catastrophe. The debt ceiling deniers, then, are doubly ignorant: ignorant of the mess they're trying to cause and ignorant of the mess that's already here.