Sequester: Stupidity and fear combine to produce nothing
It is unclear how the failure of the federal government's elected leaders to govern will affect Americans and the fragile economy. Across-the-board cuts mandated by the irresponsible "sequester" will occur gradually rather than immediately, for the most part.
Far more certain is that the sequester is a colossal failure of governance, the inability of Congress and the administration to agree even on national priorities, much less on the minutiae of policies affecting every facet of American life, from national security to education.
The "sequester" itself was meant to be a scare tactic. After the failure of the congressional "supercommittee" to reach a consensus on taxes and spending two years ago, the sequester plan was devised to jolt the polarized parties into an agreement. Arbitrary cuts would wound every valid program and every sacred cow; its objective was to produce a more rational conclusion.
Actually, the threat offered the opportunity for a global resolution, under which the government could set priorities and spend accordingly.
A prime example is the sequester's impact on defense spending. The deadline offered the opportunity to shape weapons procurement and operational aspects of the military to actual likely threats. Failure to tackle that, instead, has allowed the Pentagon itself to make up cuts through effective 20 percent pay reductions for the civilian work force. No examination of wasteful procurement, no strategic analysis of needs - just blind cuts that preserve, rather than eliminate waste.
The threat could have been the impetus for meaningful tax reform to diminish federal deficit spending, while more fairly spreading the tax burden, by eliminating unwarranted subsidies and other breaks for politically influential interests.
The objective, in other words, could have been matching resources to priorities rather than spectacle of maneuvering for political advantage and then blaming the other side when the gambit fails. That has gotten old even as political theater, and it has become depressing as governance.
Expect more tit-for-tat posturing at a meeting today between President Obama and congressional leaders. But the past makes no difference. The meeting should produce a resolution that it's time for the most fundamental agreement of all: to govern wisely rather than stupidly, as represented by the sequester.