It seems to be a foregone conclusion that across-the-board federal spending cuts will go into effect Friday that are harmful to the recovering economy and were never intended to become law. President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans are pointing fingers at each other, but there is plenty of blame to go around. This self-inflicted damage to families, national security and the economy could be avoided if the president and Congress put the nation above political gamesmanship.
The gridlock in Washington is why so many voters have so little trust in government. Let's remember that sequestration was designed to be so distasteful to both Republicans and Democrats that it would force a grand deal on reducing the federal deficit. When the president and Congress failed at that, the best they could do at the end of last year was delay sequestration for two months. Once again, a manufactured crisis is looming and the federal government is incapable of reaching a compromise.
This time, the consequences are very real. Barring a last-minute miracle, $85 billion in spending cuts will kick in Friday affecting everyday lives. From longer waits at airports to longer waits for justice in federal courts, from fewer small business loans to slower response after hurricanes and other disasters, the impact will be real. Thousands of children will lose Head Start, and hundreds of thousands of mentally ill adults and emotionally disturbed children could lose their treatments. Imposing arbitrary spending cuts without regard to the consequences because Democrats and Republicans are fighting in Washington is no way to run a nation.
Obama bears more than a little responsibility. He failed to act on the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles committee that he created, which proposed a combination of revenue increases and targeted spending cuts. He failed to nail down a grand bargain with House Speaker John Boehner when it was within reach, although Boehner deserves blame for pulling back from those private talks. Since his re-election, the president has persuaded Congress to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire on the wealthiest taxpayers and delay another fight over raising the debt ceiling. But Obama has not been specific enough about raising revenue and reducing spending to avoid the sequester, and he missed an opportunity to talk in detail about it with the American public during his State of the Union address.
Boehner and other congressional Republicans are equally to blame. The only reasonable way to significantly reduce the deficit is through a combination of raising revenue and reducing spending. Too many Republicans, including members of Florida's congressional delegation, cling to the no-new-taxes mantra to remain in good graces with their party's most conservative wing. That is not in the nation's best interests.
It would be foolish and self-defeating for the economy to slip backward because the president and Congress are deadlocked in a partisan fight. Sequestration was never the right answer. Obama and congressional Republicans ought to come together and agree on a smarter way forward.