Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact: How bad will the sequester be, and who is to blame

It's Washington's latest case of economic hostage-taking: If Congress and President Barack Obama don't reach a deal by Friday, the budget gets whacked!

Voters have heard these fiscal threats before. This time, the cuts are part of existing law. Inaction means nearly across-the-board spending cuts, with half taken from defense and the military.

Here's PolitiFact's guide to that funny word, sequestration.

Whose fault is the sequester?

Both the White House and Congress signed off on an agreement leading to the sequester.

Here's the background: In the summer of 2011, Obama and Congress were in a high-stakes standoff over the debt limit. House Republicans insisted on spending cuts before increasing the debt limit. This was a notable change from the past, when members of Congress would pass debt ceiling increases with relatively little fuss.

Obama and House Speaker John Boehner tried unsuccessfully to reach a "grand bargain" to put the federal budget on more stable footing. When that failed, they arrived at the much less ambitious Budget Control Act of 2011.

That law included about $1.2 trillion in future budget cuts, but it also directed Congress to find another $1.2 trillion via a bipartisan "supercommittee." As further incentive, the law had a threat: If the supercommittee couldn't agree on a package, or if Congress voted down the supercommittee's proposal, a sequester would automatically go into effect.

Both Obama and Boehner supported the plan and urged Congress to pass it, which it did. The supercommittee deadlocked, though, so it never proposed new cuts. Hence the sequester.

Whose idea was it?

It was Obama's idea, but Republicans agreed to it and provided key support.

The most detailed account on this point is in The Price of Politics, a Bob Woodward book about the 2011 debt ceiling standoff. His reporting shows the White House developed the idea and presented it to Democratic leadership on July 28 and to Boehner's team two days later.

Both sides saw it as a way to force further negotiations, according to Woodward. The Obama team thought there was "no chance" Republicans would allow defense cuts; Boehner said Democrats would cave to save domestic programs. Woodward quotes Boehner predicting sequester "is never going to happen."

Who wants it to happen?

The prevailing opinion in both parties is sequestration = bad.

What we're witnessing now is a game of brinkmanship: Obama has proposed a plan to avert the cuts that combines closing tax loopholes with cutting federal spending; Republicans have offered spending cuts.

"They are putting forward proposals … that they know the other side is going to reject," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "It's like they're holding out for total victory."

That's the outward account, anyway. Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says there's a second, behind-the-scenes story line:

"A sizable number of members of Congress want a sequester; the overwhelming majority of them are House Republicans who believe that this is the best way to get a down payment on spending cuts, and don't believe (or care) that national security might be at risk," Ornstein said. "Very few Democrats want a sequester; a few think it will backfire on Republicans, and so are secretly happy."

It's the blunt, indiscriminate nature of sequestration that policymakers dislike. But at least among Republicans, there's appetite for belt-tightening.

"This year's cuts are less than 1 percent of the $8.7 trillion in new debt that will be racked up over the next decade," said Alison Fraser of the conservative Heritage Foundation. "So absolutely, sequester level cuts are necessary."

What if it happens?

Across-the-board cuts in discretionary domestic spending sounds pretty nebulous. But think about these federal programs and agencies: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, border security, airport security, Head Start and FEMA's disaster relief budget. Now think about them (and others) having billions less to function, and the picture becomes a little clearer.

Sharon Parrott, a vice president at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the cuts will remind the public of "some of the really basic things that government does." One example: meat inspectors, who could be furloughed.

Most people don't think about their role as they stroll through the grocery aisles, she said.

But she emphasized that some people could feel the impacts directly. Head Start, which awards grants to states for school readiness, would see cuts. Health programs that provide immunizations and cancer screenings are also vulnerable.

Keep in mind that many government services were exempted from the sequester. Tax returns will still go out. Seniors won't lose Medicare benefits. Veterans benefits won't be affected.

For Americans worried about a cataclysm? "It's not going to be hellfire and brimstone," Ellis said.

Comments
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18
Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another facility intended for detaining undocumented children is reportedly in the works for Houston as the number of children separated from their parents at the border continues to swell.Southwest Key Programs, the same contractor that operates the...
Published: 06/19/18
Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

ST. PETERSBURG — They appear to rise out of nowhere — two enormous, reclaimed-water tanks with an artist’s white clouds scudding across a blue background.A closer view reveals silhouettes of a lone coyote howling at the sky, mangrove islands, oak, cy...
Published: 06/19/18
FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says he’s willing to testify before Congress

FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says he’s willing to testify before Congress

The FBI agent who was removed from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for sending anti-Trump texts intends to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and any other congressional committee that asks, his attorney sai...
Published: 06/17/18