Sequestration was created for one specific purpose: to concoct a consequence so universally undesirable that Republicans and Democrats would be not just willing, but morally compelled to negotiate an alternative. Each side understands this circumstance, and uses its threat as political fodder to sell their agendas to the American people. They can make as many accusatory public statements as they please — and perhaps win the sympathies of a few constituents — but, unless each side accepts fundamental concessions, sequestration will take effect and the nation will pay an irrationally harsh price for its government’s immaturity.
Admittedly, the combination of reforms, spending cuts, and tax increases that might define a balanced deal wouldn’t be ideal for anyone. That is, after all, why deficit reduction negotiations were postponed in 2011, resulting in the sequester. Likewise, when such proposals were presented following the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, members of both parties proved unable to fulfill their pleas for bipartisan, albeit difficult, action. But while the myriad principles modeled by Simpson and Bowles’ proposition are harsh, they are necessary to the long-term health of the United States economy.
Neither Republicans nor Democrats will realistically acquiesce wholly to the other side’s agenda. The only way forward for them to responsibly confront the looming sequester, other than extending the deadline, is to each make unpleasant concessions.
Yes, Republicans have already accepted tax hikes during the fiscal cliff negotiations. But there have also been some, though not nearly enough, discretionary spending cuts under President Obama. Republicans thus need to return to their proposal of reforming the loopholes that exist in the current tax system, which Democrats, having already raised tax rates this year, should embrace as an alternate means of increasing government revenue.
And although Republicans are fundamentally fearful of cutting defense spending, there is undoubtedly excess in the trillion-dollar military budget. However, the cuts imposed by the impending sequester are severe and harmful because there is no flexibility in its framework. Cuts are uniform throughout the department’s multiple sub-sections, which will prevent Department of Defense officials from making the most rational, appropriate cuts possible. Republicans should accept a modest quota for defense cuts that allows the department to cut back without compromising national security or jobs.
In order for Republicans to consider provisions that involve increased revenue and defense cuts, Democrats will undoubtedly have to curb entitlement spending. $1,661 billion in discretionary spending cuts over the next eight years, which was proposed by the Simpson-Bowles Commission, would force legislators to finally address gluttonous spending, as well as prove to the private sector and the world that the United States government is serious about deficit reduction.
There are indeed many other reforms to be made — Social Security’s future solvency is still uncertain, as is that of Medicare. Yet a deal must be manufactured that members of both parties can swallow before the quickly approaching March 1 deadline. The very fact that the government requires the threat of sequestration to inspire action is embarrassing, but the inability to cooperate in light of this threat would be insulting.