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Out of Left Field | Commentary by Charlie Vignola
| Monday, Feb 25, 2013

charlievignolaIf nothing happens by this Friday, the long-dreaded “sequestration” will be triggered, and all sorts of economic chaos will be unleashed on America as the U.S. government brutally slashes $85 billion a year from its budget, hitting defense and non–defense spending in equal punitive measure.

Based on the programs being affected, these cuts could severely compromise our military readiness, significantly cut the unemployment checks of jobless Americans, adversely affect airport security, slash Medicare payments, weaken border security and cost us 700,000 jobs at a time when the economy is still struggling to pull out of the worst recession in 70 years.

What exactly is sequestration, and where did it come from?

Well, in short order, sequestration was passed as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, and designed as a blunt instrument to force a “supercommittee” of Democrats and Republicans to agree on $1.4 trillion in spending cuts over a 10-year period.

If they couldn’t agree, then starting in 2012, the sequestration would be triggered and $1.4 trillion would be automatically cut from the budget, half from the defense budget and half from non-defense programs.  The idea was, the cuts would be so horrible to both Republicans and Democrats that cooler heads would prevail and everyone would compromise.

Of course, this hasn’t happened.

What’s confusing as the sequester draws near is the Republican response to it.  House Speaker John Boehner wrote an op-ed in last week’s Wall Street Journal warning of the economic damage that the “Obama’s sequester” would do to the country.  Our own congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, took to the safe haven of Fox News to decry how the military would be devastated by the onerous cuts.

It’s clear that the widespread Republican attempt to brand this as the “Obama sequester” indicates their awareness that it’s a terrible thing and it’s important to distance themselves as far away from it as they can in the event that this bomb goes off.

There’s just one small problem with Boehner’s assertion that Obama is responsible for the sequester: It isn’t true.

You see, while the sequester came about because of the 2011 budget act, that legislation was driven solely by the Republicans’ irresponsible refusal to raise the debt ceiling for the first time in U.S. history unless every dollar of increase was matched with an equal dollar in spending cuts.

No other president ever had to deal with such a demand – not even George W. Bush when he was the first president to take the national debt from single to double digits during his two terms in office.  No, this ginned-up concern over the debt only became issue No. 1 for the Republicans once there was a Democratic president in office.

The Republicans didn’t want any of these extorted spending cuts to come from their beloved defense budget, and the Democrats didn’t want the majority of cuts coming from social programs to help the sick, elderly and poor – especially during a once-in-a-lifetime mega-recession, with which we’re still grappling, by the way.

Trying to split the difference, President Obama proposed a poison pill for both parties as an incentive for them to work in a bipartisan fashion to find the $1.4 trillion in spending cuts that the Republicans were demanding as ransom to raise the debt ceiling.  Never mind that the debt ceiling isn’t about new spending, but simply paying for legislation to which the Congress has already agreed.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 was voted on and passed with broad Republican support.  If you’ll recall, John Boehner even exclaimed he’d gotten 98 percent of what he’d wanted out of the bill.

In fact, massive cuts in government spending have been the goal of the Republican Party for many years, so it’s odd now to hear any of the Republicans complaining about the sequester or its consequences.  Some of them are simultaneously trying to pin the sequester solely on Obama because they know the public will want to punish someone when the cuts go into effect, yet many of them are also arguing that the cuts don’t go nearly deep enough.

On Fox News, McKeon not only warned about the disaster our military would face if the cuts went through, but also explained how the Republicans offered several common-sense bills that would have averted these military cuts.

One of these Republican-sponsored bill bills was HR 5652, which would have prevented the military cuts by instead cutting food-stamp programs, trimming cash assistance to needy families, cutting money that helps the poor pay their energy bills, slashing job-training programs, repealing the funding to help set up the public health exchanges offered by Obamacare, and getting rid of the home mortgage modification program designed to help beleaguered homeowners who’ve been hammered by the housing crash.

In other words, McKeon’s sensible plan to keep defense spending at its current bloated levels was to put all of the sequester cuts squarely on the backs of the poor.

The fact that this would greatly help the military contractors whose campaign donations keep McKeon in office is just icing on the cake.

Here’s the bottom line on who’s to blame for the sequester: Yes, Obama proposed the idea of forcing Democrats and Republicans to address the trillions in spending cuts with a mechanism that would drastically cut programs beloved by both parties. But the only reason he even suggested the idea was to meet the demands of obstinate Republicans who refused to raise the debt ceiling otherwise, and they all voted for it, including McKeon.

In the movie “Sophie’s Choice,” a young Jewish mother named Sophie is cruelly forced by the Nazis to pick which one of her two children would live and which would die.  The Republicans would have you believe Sophie was to blame for the murder of her child, and that the Nazis who forced her to make that choice shouldn’t bear any responsibility for this ghastly act.

Sorry, GOP, but you’re not fooling anyone. Your party’s collapsing poll numbers in the wake of the sequester will show very clearly whom the public blames for this latest, self-inflicted economic disaster.

 

Charlie Vignola describes himself as a former College Republican turned liberal Democrat.  A resident of the Santa Clarita Valley since 1999, he works in the motion picture industry and loves his wife and kids.

 

 

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