History seems to be repeating itself in Washington, whether it is the debt ceiling, the fiscal cliff or now, the subject of sequestration.  I am predicting another last minute (poor) deal or extension to avoid drastic spending cuts from going into effect, but the real question is: why does this keep happening?

The sequestration was triggered by the failure of Congress’ own Justice League, the Super Committee.  However, let’s go back even further to figure out how we got into this mess.

Super Committee

The Super Committee was created out of the 2011 debt ceiling deal.  You may remember the debt ceiling, a common practice to cover money the government already spent that was never an issue until the Tea Party-fused GOP made it one.

The GOP put on their own backyard performance of Die Hard, happily taking the role of Hans Gruber as they literally took the votes needed for the debt ceiling increase hostage.

Demanding large and quick spending cuts to lower debt, the GOP members of Congress refused any deal that attempted to generate new revenue through taxation.

President Obama and Congressional Democrats paid the Republican-requested ransom in the form of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Congress passed the Act, much to the delight of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who commented about holding on to the debt ceiling as if it were Bonnie Bedelia: “What we did learn is this – it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming.  And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done.”

Debt Ceiling

Just a reminder:  the method used by Congressional Republicans and the resulting deal McConnell was so proud of were the same ones that lowered our nation’s credit rating for the first time in history.

The Super Committee was specifically spawned from the Budget Control Act .  The bipartisan group would decide where to make the spending cuts in their plan to lower the deficit by $1.5 trillion over ten years. If they failed, across-the-board cuts would be enacted (Hello sequester!).  However, a familiar issue arose within the group.

The Republican members once again refused any form of tax increase; rather, they presented in their offer to make the Bush tax cuts permanent for the wealthiest Americans.   You know, the exact opposite of what they were supposed to be doing as members of the Super Committee.

The Committee’s failure contributed to our nation counting down to a combination of monstrous government cuts, lapse in the AMT patch, expiration of federal unemployment benefits, and the end of the Bush tax cuts for all incomes, better known as the fiscal cliff.

El Cliff

To avoid going over the man-made cliff, Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 and simply kicked the drastic government cuts (the sequester) a few weeks down the road.  This Friday, the sequester goes into effect.

The Congressional Budget Office is estimating the sequester will cost the nation 750,000 jobs if it is not properly dealt with.  Lets take a look at just some of the effects the cuts will have on my home state of Iowa:

  • Primary and secondary education would lose $6.4 million in funding.
  • Education for Children with Disabilities would lose $5.8 million.
  • 2,370 low-income students would no longer receive aid for college costs.
  • Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for 500 children.
  • The state would lose $2.4 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality.
  • $661,000 reduction in grants for fish and wildlife protection.
  • 2,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed.
  • $135,000 reduction in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and crime victim and witness initiatives.
  • $90,000 reduced funding for child vaccinations.

The Democrats in the Progressive Caucus have responded to the sequester by creating a plan that includes ending subsidies for fossil fuel companies, bringing back 10,000 of our troops from overseas, capping deductions and exclusions at 28% and closing multiple tax loopholes.

The House Democratic plan, introduced by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, would enact the “Buffet Rule,” which is a tax increase on incomes above $1 million dollars.  The plan also closes tax code loopholes for oil companies and includes cuts in agriculture.

Chris Van Hollen

Where is the GOP plan?  House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel responded earlier this month: “We passed a bill more than six months ago, we passed a bill six weeks ago.  The President and Senate Democrats now have the responsibility to act.”   Of course, Steele fails to mention what a shit bill it was.

The Spending Reduction Act of 2012 would cut $11.4 billion dollars from the Affordable Care Act’s public health fund, shrink the food stamp program and cut the Social Services Block Grant program.   Sounds like a winner.

A new proposal offered by the GOP (but can’t be considered a plan by any means) is to essentially give the President the power in how the sequester cuts are applied.  The White House has (wisely) already dismissed the proposal, which doesn’t even carry full support within the Republican Party.

Tuesday was the third time this year the Republican-controlled House blocked the Democratic sequester plan from even having a vote.  Perhaps the GOP is simply confused as to what a “plan” is.

We clearly recognize the mistakes and poor decision-making that brought us to this point.  It would be nothing short of spectacular if the Republican leadership could catch up with the majority of Americans.

After the raising of the debt ceiling deal, Mitch McConnell told CNBC’s Larry Kudlow:

“What we have done, Larry, also, is set a new template. In the future, any president, this one or another one, when they request us to raise the debt ceiling, it will not be clean anymore. This is just the first step. This, we anticipate, will take us into 2013. Whoever the new president is, is probably going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again. Then we will go through the process again and see what we can continue to achieve in connection with these debt ceiling requests of presidents to get our financial house in order.”

Sounds like somebody has been gearing up for another Die Hard film.

Mitch McConnell

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