By Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein
The Washington Post
Our political system was not designed to be efficient, but it wasn’t supposed to be self-destructive, either. After a near-default on the public debt and a fiscal cliff that threatened a new recession, we are facing another man-made crisis: the sequester, across-the-board cuts in discretionary domestic and defense spending that are set to begin Friday and extend over a decade. Let’s separate fact from fiction about the sequester and its impact.
1. Blame Obama — the sequester was his White House’s idea.
Identifying the origins of the sequester has become a major Washington fight. Bob Woodward weighed in recently with a Washington Post op-ed making the case that the idea began in the White House. He’s right in a narrow sense, mainly because he focuses on the middle of the 2011 negotiations between Obama and Republican lawmakers. If you look before and after, a different picture emerges.
In our view, what happened is quite straightforward: In 2011, House Republican leaders used their new majority to force their priorities on the Democratically controlled Senate and the president by holding the debt limit hostage to demands for deep and immediate spending cuts. After negotiations between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner failed (Eric Cantor recently took credit for scuttling a deal), the parties at the eleventh hour settled on a two-part solution: immediate discretionary spending caps that would result in cuts of almost $1 trillion over 10 years; and the creation of a “supercommittee” tasked with reducing the 2012-2021 deficit by another $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion. If the supercommittee didn’t broker a deal, automatic spending cuts of $1.2 trillion over the next decade — the sequester — would go into effect. The sequester was designed to be so potentially destructive that the supercommittee would surely reach a deal to avert it.