Sequestration 2013: Who Do We Blame?

As of Friday, the sequester, a series of broad spending cuts with serious consequences, went into effect. The measure was initially set up by Congress as a means for strong arming itself into developing a reasonable solution to the deficit. However that didn’t happen, and now we are left wondering why. As we look at both side it seems that ultimately the sequester isn’t the spending cuts Congress needs, but rather the spending cuts it deserves.

The Republican Take:

The Republicans want spending cuts. However, they have long believed that despite hearing calls for a balanced approach, no one will offer what they consider serious spending cuts. Since Congress has already raised taxes, from their perspective, a balanced approach would next involve cutting spending. However, they haven’t seen much in terms of spending cut proposals from Democrats, leaving many with the suspicion that Democrats don’t intend to offer them any.

Unfortunately, the Republicans feel their choice is between no spending cuts or the deep spending cuts enacted by the sequester. Given this choice, there are many in the Republican Party who prefer the sequester to nothing at all, including Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), who said that "The American people really don't believe when spending's gone up that much since 2009 that a 2.4 percent cut in spending is cutting a lot." That list also includes Senator Rand Paul (R-KY.), who believes the sequester doesn’t cut enough, and Representative Jim Jordan, (R-Ohio), who stated that "If, in fact, we’re going to scale back discretionary spending by $85 billion, tell me when that’s ever happened before." There are actually a fair number of Republicans, like Representative Jordan, who express a similar satisfaction with the outcome.

The Democratic Take:

By advocating for a balanced approach, which according to a recent Pew Research Center poll is supported by 76% of the public, Democrats have suggested that they are willing to offer some spending cuts. The truth is, they would rather not. This makes the sequester a perfect opportunity to gain another foot up on Republicans. By letting the sequester take place, the Democrats have the opportunity to allow spending cuts to take effect without having to actually vote in favor of any spending cuts. They get to claim that the spending cuts didn’t happen because they voted for them, but rather because Republicans wouldn’t vote against them. Essentially, Democrats are off the hook in terms of having to vote for spending cuts.

The other benefit for Democrats is that according to the same Pew poll, GOP leaders will take 49%, a plurality, of the blame for the sequester (with Obama second highest at 31%). With Republicans taking the lion’s share of the blame you can be sure the Democrats will bring up this fiasco every time jobs numbers go down or economic growth slows, and you can be certain that this will come up over and over again in every election of 2014.

So who’s to blame?

Everybody... the whole lot.

Ultimately, both sides were willing to settle for a long-term disaster in order to fulfill short-term goals that satisfy small fractions of their party. Republicans aimed to save face with the far right by coming through on significant, if painful, spending cuts, rather than looking for more thoughtful if less impressive options. Democrats aimed to avoid alienating the far left by allowing the right to take the blame for the outcome rather than cooperating to offer any alternative. Both found an outcome that they hope will please a small segment of their party, but both missed the opportunity to create an outcome that would have pleased a large segment of both parties.