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Don’t Scuttle the Sequester

Don't Scuttle the Sequester

Is anyone in the Republican party paying any attention to the pitch-forked anger and contempt that voters are expressing toward Washington?  The Donald Trump phenomenon is nothing if not a voice of protest by conservatives against the broken promises by the GOP leadership and their unwillingness to stand up to Obama’s imperial presidency.

‎       Here we go again.
       While all of the attention in Washington is on a potential showdown between Barack Obama and the congressional Republicans on Planned Parenthood funding, what’s gone unnoticed is a scheme to bust through the budget caps.  This would be the third time Congress has busted through the spending ceilings in four years and to do so again would be another capitulation to the White House on the budget.
        Those budget caps, and the enforcement mechanism of across the board spending cuts called “sequestration,” ‎were enacted as part of the Budget Control Act.  This was the deal between Obama and the Speaker John Boehner to get the budget deficit down from its towering height of $1.5 trillion.
        The caps on domestic and defense discretionary spending – entitlement programs are not subject to the cap – were installed in the first place because Obama wouldn’t agree to any cuts in entitlement programs.  As I’ve written previously on these pages, sequester and budget caps have been a major policy success.  President Obama crowed recently that the budget deficit will fall below half a trillion dollars this year – from a high of $1.4 trillion in his first term – but he didn’t say that this progress was in no small part due to the sequestration law that he now wants to dismantle.
    The caps have saved nearly $1 trillion 2011. Government spending has fallen to 20.6 percent of GDP this year from 24 percent before the sequester.  About half of those savings have come from reducing military spending and the other half from social programs.  The left detests these caps because they have squeezed nearly every program they care about – from climate change research to aid to big city mayors to money for Planned Parenthood.
     Military cuts have been severe, yet most of those would have happened anyway because of the exit of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
     President Obama is demanding ‎some $70 billion spending above the caps for 2016.  This would be a near 7 percent hike in spending on these programs. Sadly, many Republican appropriators want the deal almost as much as Obama does.
      This would be a political and policy fiasco for Republicans. The GOP has won two monster Tea Party-led midterm elections – in 2010 and 2014 – by promising to shrink government in Washington. That is why they were given majorities in the House and Senate.   The caps are the best tool to do that while this president is in office. Spending will decline if Republicans will simply force Obama to abide by the law he signed. The sequester is automatic – he can’t suspend it through an executive order.
     Many conservatives grouse that the big boulders of the budget – welfare, social security, medicare and Obamacare – aren’t subject to the caps. But the only way to get cuts in those programs is to enforce the tight lid on all other spending.  Suspending the spending caps takes all the pressure off and makes bipartisan entitlement reform LESS not more likely.
      Obama and his economists have argued that spending cuts are a form of “economic austerity.”  Actually, reducing government spending and debt is a stimulus because it frees up private resources that are spent on more productive activities. The fear mongers who argued that the sequester would cause a recession back in 2012 and 2013 were wrong.
Even with these cuts, the feds will still borrow an estimated $400 billion next year. That’s hardly austerity.
      Across the board spending cuts aren’t the best way to cut spending, yet with this president and this Congress it’s probably the only way to do it. Suspending the caps again will send a loud and clear message to voters that reducing spending and debt are no longer a high priority for the GOP.  That’s the exact wrong message for the party to be spending on the eve of the biggest election in a generation.

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