sequestration |ˌsēkwiˈstrā sh ən; ˌsek-|noun … the action of making a general cut in government spending : the measure brings the federal budget closer to sequestration. — Webster’s Online Dictionary
Oh look. We’re all still here. The world didn’t end.
That’s not to make light of the recent automatic spending cuts from the United States’ federal budget, which will amount to about $85 billion. People will lose jobs. Services will become harder to get, or in some cases, vanish. President Obama’s predictions of derailed economic growth may come true as well, although it’s too early to say. Even when it’s not, there will be endless, inconclusive debate about whether it was the sequestration that slowed growth, or one of a dozen other factors.
Endless, that is, until there’s something new and inconsequential to debate. That, of course, is the real problem: we’re eternally infatuated with debate and just as eternally disgusted by compromise, the engine of solution.
When misunderstanding muddles a situation, I am usually tempted to blame lack of education. Understanding through education tends to disable fear, especially fear of change, which is the most potent fuel of fiery, unreasoning political hate and the refusal to come together. But people at all levels of education can generally agree that when people work together and give in a little on their initial wants, things get better for everyone. Never is one “side” completely correct in any political argument. Behaving as if they ever could be drives ratings and rancor, but not much else.
But as we have seen, the region inside the I-495 beltway is a reason-free zone. Party politics dominate, and we are all being taken for a nauseating ride.
It’s pretty clear that generations of government spending, by presidents and Congresses of either stripe, have combined with a kick-the-can-down-the-road attitude to get us into a bigger mess than the most incorrigible credit card misuser could ever dream up. Proportionally, anyway. And now we’re all going to have to feel the pinch to get out of it — and many of us won’t live to see the glorious exit from debt, because yes, the problem is that big. Nonetheless, trimming must begin, and it must continue. Identifying the true fat in the budget will take hard work and compromise, because one person’s fat is another’s flavor. Both sides will have to give a little, over and over again.
But despite the obvious problem of rampant spending, it’s not right to slash away mercilessly simply to get the total down. Just as you wouldn’t do that to your household budget — for instance, the recreation money has to go before a big portion of the grocery or the heating oil money — so must we examine the purpose of every dollar the government spends. Some are more worthwhile than others. And again, identifying which ones will require champions of certain programs to give in a bit from time to time.
Here is where the real difficulty comes in: there is far too much acceptance of the prevailing right-wing sentiment that 1) every dollar spent by the government, every one, is bad and it must stop, and/or 2) if that dollar has anything to do with President Obama or another Democrat, it is similarly bad and must not be spent. The media, of course, have a continuous spray of kerosene going onto this fire; that strategy feeds their endless reality-show beast masquerading as news.
Terminology is partly to blame. The word “entitlement” is unfortunate, for there is no sin in feeling entitled to something you have paid into for decades in exchange for the promise of some return. Sure, Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are ripe for small cuts. But taking the machete to these lifelines in the name of some kind of misguided Paul Ryanist “responsibility” is breaking an important generational bond between the people and their representative government. Better to find the kind of programs the heartless wing of the right means when they say “entitlement”: the true handout. If you can find it, and it’s really a free ride instead of an enlightened society’s effort to temporarily help those who are down and out through no fault of their own — then by all means, cut or eliminate it.
Personally, I will be suspicious of almost any budget slash proposed by the more strident segment of the right wing unless they can make it clear — believably clear — that they would do the same if their party were in power, or if they didn’t hate the president so much. That will be a tall order.
Meanwhile, although life has gone on, there is a human cost to almost everything about the sequestration. National Public Radio, in a recent story, brought up the example of meat inspectors. If spending cuts require more U.S. Department of Agriculture meat inspectors to be furloughed, meat inspection may be slower — and since it’s against the law to sell un-inspected meat, that could pinch supply, which will jack meat prices. (Or not, depending on the party of the speaker.) Good luck getting enough protein into your kids, single working mom who pays her taxes and obeys the law and struggles to get by. (Or not, depending on the party of the grocer.)
But until this 40 years in the desert is over and a new generation takes it into their hearts to teach its elders to compromise, this is the way it’s going to be. As we keep “drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next,” as the president said in the State of the Union address, life will go on. It’ll just be a lot harder, usually for people who did nothing to deserve it.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr