The Reverse of Sequestration

May 7, 2012

Last November, the so-called supercommittee — a 12-member body set up by Congress to tackle a much-needed plan to cut the deficit — threw in the towel. Unable to resolve disputes over taxes and spending cuts, Republicans and Democrats on the committee missed their deadline and presented no plan. It was an unqualified flop.

Now what? Under the Budget Control Act passed in August, a set of “automatic” spending reductions, totaling $1.2 trillion over nine years, is supposed to kick in starting in January 2013 — a consolation prize, some observers assume, given the committee’s failure.  After all, for any carrot and stick approach to work, there has to be real consequences for failure.

But, it’s not much consolation when we consider that this week the House of Representatives is already trying to find a way out.  You see, nearly half of these aforementioned cuts are suppose to come from defense spending.  After all, in an infographic we put together last September, we documented that the U.S. spent over 40 percent of all defense spending–in the world.

Republicans in the House of Representatives want to keep spending that way.  So today at 2 pm, the House of Representatives’ Budget Committee will consider legislation that would stop the scheduled automatic reductions and replace it with a plan that doesn’t cut defense spending.  Here is the simple fact: as of last year, the United States’ defense spending consumed nearly 20 percent of total government spending.

If Congress is going to get serious about cutting spending, they have to keep everything on the table, including defense.  Some have claimed that cutting defense spending  would amount to taking a “meat ax” to our defense capabilities. The metaphor is intended to suggest that the cutting is indiscriminate (although if you’ve ever watched a butcher at work, you know how skillfully he can wield his tools to cut out the fat and unnecessary tissues to leave the best cut of lean meat, which would be a worthy goal).

Perhaps more appropriate metaphor would be to consider that the federal budget right now is a sick patient, and a surgical intervention is needed to put him on the course toward a healthy future. But, that’s going to require leadership and keeping all options to cut spending on the table and not trying to find an easy way out.

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