The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Politics

February 28, 2013

Five myths about the sequester

(Continued)

The sequester’s origins can’t be blamed on one person — or one party. Republicans insisted on a trigger for automatic cuts; Jack Lew, then the White House budget director, suggested the specifics, modeled after a sequester-like mechanism Congress used in the 1980s, but with automatic tax increases added. Republicans rejected the latter but, at the time, took credit for the rest. Obama took the deal to get a debt-ceiling increase. But the president never accepted the prospect that the sequester would occur, nor did he ever agree to take tax increases off the table.

2. At least the automatic cuts will reduce runaway spending and begin to control the deficit.

What runaway spending? The $787 billion stimulus was a one-time expenditure that has come and gone. Under current law not including the sequester, non-defense discretionary spending as a share of the economy will shrink to a level not seen in 50 years. Defense spending grew substantially over the past decade, but that pattern has slowed and will soon end. Additional reductions must be achieved intelligently, tied to legitimate national security needs.

Across-the-board cuts can have perverse effects on deficits; as services are cut, the fees users pay for those services are lost. For example, sequester-driven furloughs of air-traffic controllers will lead the number of flights to be reduced.

The annual budget deficit is projected to fall by almost 50 percent in 2013 compared with the height of the recession. Reducing the deficit over the long term requires going where the money is — boosting economic growth, controlling health-care costs and increasing revenue to handle the expense of an aging population. Deeper discretionary-spending cuts are counterproductive; immediate cuts, as Europe has made recently, could lead to a recession and bigger deficits.

3. The amounts are so small, they won’t hurt much.

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