ROBINSON: Contempt for Washington's pseudo-crisis
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 11:47 a.m.
I hate the way the sequester diverts attention from issues that actually matter, like unemployment, gun violence, climate change, failing schools and the need to spur economic growth.
I hate the sequester's essential ambiguity, its Janus-faced dual nature. It is punishing, cruel and counterproductive, as the White House insists; and it is also no big deal, as Republicans contend.
The president's claim that janitors at the U.S. Capitol would receive a pay cut and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's report that some teachers have already gotten pink slips both were awarded Four Pinocchios by
However, Republicans are correct when they say: Come on, get real, we're talking about an across-the-board cut of $85 billion, just 2 percent of the budget. While they're wrong to claim that a cut of this magnitude will be painless, they're right to point out that the republic will not crumble into dust.
Medicare will see no more than a 2 percent cut, while Medicaid and Social Security will be untouched. Since these programs are so big and costly, other parts of the budget will have to face much deeper cuts to make up the total $85 billion savings.
Defense spending is slated to be hit hardest, with an annualized budget reduction of nearly 10 percent.
Republicans would be right to note that the Pentagon will still eat up about half of all “discretionary” federal spending — and that the United States' position as the world's leading military power would remain unchallenged. But they don't want to point this out because the GOP is supposed to be the strong-on-defense party that never met a gazillion-dollar weapons system it didn't like.
Which brings me to another thing I hate about the sequester: the political incompetence and miscalculation that produced it. To quote baseball legend Casey Stengel: Can't anybody here play this game?
The president apparently didn't foresee that the Republican Party's activist base would approach the sequester deadline full of outrage, not resignation. And neither he nor the GOP leadership seems to have fully grasped how opinion within the party has shifted on defense spending. On shrinking the Pentagon, many tea party Republicans are closer to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party than to their own party's establishment.
To review: Entitlement spending is largely untouched, and defense spending isn't the sacred cow it once was. Thus neither party has an incentive to make concessions, at least until the true impact of the cuts is felt. Which will take time.
What I really hate about the sequester is the way it confirms the conventional wisdom that “both sides are wrong.” This is usually the kind of lazy pseudoanalysis that drives me up the wall. But it took both Obama and the Republicans to get us into this mess — and nobody has a clue how to get us out of it.
Eugene Robinson is a columnist for the Washington Post.
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