Here’s a headline from Politico today,”Hope Grows for Budget Deal.” And here’s a line from a story on the same subject in today’s Wall Street Journal, “There is growing pessimism that any deal can be reached…” This inherent contradiction of opinion makes up one of the most hotly debated questions in Washington right now; will there or won’t there be a deal on sequestration?
To remind folks, sequestration is set to take effect for the second year in a row on January 15. The budget control Act of 2011, which mandated automatic cuts (sequestration), was designed to be so hideous, such bad policy, so damaging, that it would force a budget deal. Turns out it was all of the former and could not achieve the later.
By almost anyone’s account in Washington, next year’s cuts will devastate those who were merely deeply hurt last year.
The reason for this is that agencies used both dollars that were unspent from the previous fiscal year and, to the extent possible, tried to cut fat wherever they could. This coming year will be different. There is no fat to cut. Research institutions will be forced to halt research, lay off more employees, or shut down. All but basic mandated military training will grind to a halt. Innovation will be stifled. Procurement of new systems will be virtually nonexistent. This is to say nothing of the long-term effects that I’ve written about before, one can’t see the next generation of really smart committed people wanting to become researchers at the NIH or government servants. We are positioned well for the continued decline of America. (Check out this wonderful clip from the first season of Newsroom.)
So what now? Recall that part of the solution to the October government shutdown was for House and Senate Budget Committee Chairs, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to conference and reach that ever elusive deal on the budget. These negotiations are well underway and the two Chairs have a self-imposed target date of December 13th for an agreement.
This week I spoke to various members of Congress and Congressional leadership and, just like the headlines, walked away with two vastly different opinions as to what the outcome will be.
One group thinks there will be a solution and an end to sequestration. The argument is that this has to happen for reasons articulated earlier, namely that the cuts are too painful. Indeed, the Pentagon and the defense industry have mounted a serious campaign against sequestration, articulating the harm that would come to our national security if the cuts were to continue. In fact, the House has passed a defense authorization bill that ignores the Sequester and the Senate is on the verge of doing the same. House GOP pro-defense members have taken an active role in articulating that this has to stop.
The other group thinks there will be no deal. They cite the fact that the House and Senate conferees are barely meeting (at least publicly) and the 30 or so radical tea party members who shut down the government and pushed the country to the brink with their refusal to raise the debt ceiling won’t blink on any gains they made on spending cuts due to sequestration. Furthermore, Senate Minority Leader McConnell has come out AGAINST ending sequestration and has said that Senate Republicans should hold fast as they don’t want to retrench from cuts already made. Adding to this is the fact that there is no unified effort from the public against sequestration, just a bunch of fragmented campaigns that aren’t pushing the needle.
This is to say nothing of the elephant in the room – the non-discretionary programs like Social Security and Medicare and the groups ready to engage and defend these programs. This is evidenced by senior citizen groups who would rather have sequestration continue than open up the discussions on these issues.
So what will happen? As a senior staffer said to me, everyone now realizes how bad this will be and it can’t continue. For this to happen, finding a solution, Ryan and Murray will need to be something more rare than a man on the moon these days, namely they’ll need to reach a bi-partisan agreement.
I sure hope they land one because God only knows how much pain the country will be in if we can’t figure this out.
The views in this blog post represent the viewpoints of individual team members, not Capstone National Partners as a whole.