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Sherman Says: Sequestration crisis proves that Washington is not doing its homework

SPRINGVILLE — Sequestration, the stalemate polarizing Washington this week, is indicative of a larger problem that is approaching epidemic proportions.

The federal government has gotten so good at postponing difficult decisions that citizens are numb to the impending effects of budget cuts set to begin taking effect, at the close of this week.

“Sequester” means to temporarily remove property from the possession of the owner. If taxpayers and citizens are the “owners” of the country, it is up to them to judge whether or not taking away a portion of federal funding for airport security, health care and education is appropriate.

The word’s 14th century roots define it as putting valuable property into the hands of a trustee. Isn’t that what we do, when we authorize members of Congress to craft a budget, each year? Aren’t we allowing these senators and members of the House of Representatives to make financial decisions for us?

Earlier this week, Senate Democrats were poised to introduce a $110 billion bill that would replace this year’s sequester cuts with revenue increases and spending cuts. They have not yet discussed a larger plan to replace all of the scheduled cuts, instead focusing on turning off the sequester for a year, according to Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper.

There ought to be a law against such postponements. Dodging the question has become as common as cherry blossoms in the District of Columbia.

Over at the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney sidestepped a question about whether or not the president would support a Republican effort to give the administration the flexibility to make the cuts in a smarter way. Carney said that, while flexibility might help, it would be “impossible” to “basically prevent all the bad things from happening, but somehow allow cuts to come in places that nobody will notice.”

Administration officials warned of massive delays at airports, after security personnel are laid off in the wake of budget cuts. Screenings would continue as usual, but there would be fewer employees performing them.

According to Roll Call, Carney argued that the GOP has, so far, chosen to protect tax breaks for hedge funds, oil companies and corporate jets, rather than avert the sequester. Republicans returned fire, by pointing out that higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans were agreed upon, at the start of the year.

This unproductive jousting between Congress and the White House led President Barack Obama to drag state governors into the ring on Monday, complicating the crisis even more.

The annual gathering of the National Governors Association was a prime opportunity for Obama to urge state executives to review state-by-state reports outlining how the more than $1 trillion in cuts would affect their constituents. The water just got muddier.

Consider Virginia, where the administration said that approximately 90,000 civilians are expected to lose about 22 days of work, during the seven months left in fiscal year 2013. Those furloughs would amount to more than $648 million in lost wages. The state would also lose more than $150 million in military operating funds and the maintenance of approximately 11 naval vessels would be canceled. What’s become of our pride and dignity?

“These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time, with just a little bit of compromise,” Obama said. Somehow, it cannot be that simple. Or that petty.

Caught in the middle – again – are the American people. We now have the president, several conspicuous members of Congress and a gaggle of governors’ trying to scale the same pole, to come out as the winner.

Can’t they see that the citizens below are walking away in disgust? If this was the circus, the tent would be empty, by now.

Compromises must be made, this week, on a long-term plan to reduce spending, while not jeopardizing security, education and jobs. We cannot tax our way out of this potential catastrophe.

Let the president and Congress show leadership, not threats, in solving this crisis of confidence. That’s what the “owners” of the country elected them to do.

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.
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