OK. No one cares about the sequester

No one cares about the sequester.  Or maybe, no one knows about it.  Or maybe everyone is just tired of Congress.

Here is Mike Luckovich today with a history of our recent financial crises.

Gee.  I don't know why you think all this is my fault.

Gee. I don’t know why you think all this is my fault.

No wonder the general public doesn’t care right now.  And they probably won’t care until cuts start to hurt them.  Let’s face it:  both sides are using those old techniques of  putting forward the arguments that make the best case for their point of view.  The Republicans are right in that it won’t hurt for a little while – maybe a month or so.  And the Democrats are right that this whole exercise is unnecessary and, in the long run not helpful to recovery.

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein who wrote the excellent book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks”, have an excellent piece in today’s Washington Post titled “Five myths about the sequester”.

1. Blame Obama — the sequester was his White House’s idea.

Identifying the origins of the sequester has become a major Washington fight. Bob Woodward weighed in recently with a Washington Post op-ed making the case that the idea began in the White House. He’s right in a narrow sense, mainly because he focuses on the middle of the 2011 negotiations between Obama and Republican lawmakers. If you look before and after, a different picture emerges.

In our view, what happened is quite straightforward: In 2011, House Republican leaders used their new majority to force their priorities on the Democratically controlled Senate and the president by holding the debt limit hostage to demands for deep and immediate spending cuts. After negotiations between Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner failed (Eric Cantor recently took credit for scuttling a deal), the parties at the eleventh hour settled on a two-part solution: immediate discretionary spending caps that would result in cuts of almost $1 trillion over 10 years; and the creation of a “supercommittee” tasked with reducing the 2012-2021 deficit by another $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion. If the supercommittee didn’t broker a deal, automatic spending cuts of $1.2 trillion over the next decade — the sequester — would go into effect. The sequester was designed to be so potentially destructive that the supercommittee would surely reach a deal to avert it.

The sequester’s origins can’t be blamed on one person — or one party. Republicans insisted on a trigger for automatic cuts; Jack Lew, then the White House budget director, suggested the specifics, modeled after a sequester-like mechanism Congress used in the 1980s, but with automatic tax increases added. Republicans rejected the latter but, at the time, took credit for the rest. Obama took the deal to get a debt-ceiling increase. But the president never accepted the prospect that the sequester would occur, nor did he ever agree to take tax increases off the table.

And of course no deal has been reached yet.

2. At least the automatic cuts will reduce runaway spending and begin to control the deficit.

What runaway spending? The $787 billion stimulus was a one-time expenditure that has come and gone. Under current law not including the sequester, non-defense discretionary spending as a share of the economy will shrink to a level not seen in 50 years. Defense spending grew substantially over the past decade, but that pattern has slowed and will soon end. Additional reductions must be achieved intelligently, tied to legitimate national security needs.

The annual budget deficit is projected to fall by almost 50 percent in 2013 compared with the height of the recession. Reducing the deficit over the long term requires going where the money is — boosting economic growth, controlling health-care costs and increasing revenue to handle the expense of an aging population. Deeper discretionary-spending cuts are counterproductive; immediate cuts, as Europe has made recently, could lead to a recession and bigger deficits.

I guess the Republicans want us to be like Greece after all.

And finally, one for the Democrats.

4. The cuts are so large, they will be catastrophic.

The administration has released state-by-state estimates of the sequester and highlighted the cutbacks most likely to harm or inconvenience the public. The reality is not so immediate or dramatic. The damage will accumulate in less visible ways, as irrational reductions in public spending impede economic growth and job creation; reduce investments in education, infrastructure and scientific research; and further disrupt the routines of a modern democracy. The longer the sequester remains in place, the more harm is inflicted.

So it may take a while to feel the cuts.  Maybe long enough for the Obama Administration to submit a sensible budget that everyone can agree on.  And no, I’m not smoking anything.  Just counting on mayors and governors to continue to put the pressure on Congress.

The Republicans and Disfunction

I’m reading It’s even Worse than it Looks: How the american Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of extremism by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein.  And yes, it is depressing especially when I’m reading it while also looking at the Republican Platform which has been described by Think Progress as the “most conservative in modern history.”  OK so maybe Think Progress is on the left but they have a pretty good summary.  Here are just a few subheading from the summary.

NO ABORTION IN CASES OF RAPE OR INCEST

NO LEGAL RECOGNITION OF SAME-SEX COUPLES

REPLICATE ARIZONA-STYLE IMMIGRATION LAWS.

NO WOMEN IN COMBAT

NO NEW TAXES, EXCEPT FOR WAR.

The New York Times said this in an editorial last Tuesday

Over the years, the major parties’ election-year platforms have been regarded as Kabuki theater scripts for convention week. The presidential candidates blithely ignored them or openly dismissed the most extreme planks with a knowing wink as merely a gesture to pacify the noisiest activists in the party.

That cannot be said of the draft of the Republican platform circulating ahead of the convention in Tampa, Fla. The Republican Party has moved so far to the right that the extreme is now the mainstream. The mean-spirited and intolerant platform represents the face of Republican politics in 2012. And unless he makes changes, it is the current face of the shape-shifting Mitt Romney.

The draft document is more aggressive in its opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory. It accuses President Obama and the federal judiciary of “an assault on the foundations of our society,” and calls for constitutional amendments banning both same-sex marriage and abortion.

In passages on abortion, the draft platform puts the party on the most extreme fringes of American opinion. It calls for a “human life amendment” and for legislation “to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” That would erase any right women have to make decisions about their health and their bodies. There are no exceptions for victims of rape or incest, and such laws could threaten even birth control.

The draft demands that the government “not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage,” which could bar abortion coverage on federally subsidized health-insurance exchanges, for example.

The platform praises states with “informed consent” laws that require women to undergo medically unnecessary tests before having abortions, and “mandatory waiting periods.” Those are among the most patronizing forms of anti-abortion legislation. They presume that a woman is not capable of making a considered decision about abortion before she goes to a doctor. The draft platform also espouses the most extreme Republican views on taxation, national security, military spending and other issues.

Over all, it is farther out on the party’s fringe than Mr. Romney ventured in the primaries, when he repudiated a career’s worth of centrist views on issues like abortion and gay marriage. But the planks hew closely to the views of his running mate, Paul Ryan, and the powerful right-wing. Mr. Romney has a chance to move back in the direction of the center by amending this extremist platform. It will be interesting to see if he seizes it.

Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia might not have gotten the Vice Presidential nod, but he delivered the platform.  He should be proud.

Mann and Ornstein have a long quote from a former Republican Congressional staff, Mike Lofgren, who wrote in 2011 why he was leaving after almost thirty years [pages 54-55] Part of that quote reads

It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe.

Later Lofgren writes

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster.  Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic.  As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.

The platform is the Ryan agenda no matter how much he tries to say that it is Romney who is running for President.  Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan and no one can convince me he didn’t know what Ryan’s positions were or what legislation he had sponsored.  The Republicans like to say they are for smaller, less intrusive government, but the platform seems pretty intrusive to me.  If they have their way, they will be imposing their views on the rest of us.