It is looking more and more like Washington politicians are once again going to kick the can down the road to show any level of fiscal responsibility by passing another short-term solution to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. This is the economic disaster which is supposedly going to hit the nation if tax rates are allowed to return to the levels in place during the Clinton era (when the economy was pretty good) and federal spending levels are forced to be cut by approximately 3% per year over the next decade.
That second part of the equation was part of the agreement that the White House and Congress made in 2011 during the debate to raise the debt limit. Republicans wanted reforms to entitlements and cuts in other federal programs. Barack Obama and his fellow democrats wanted...well, to keep spending money at the current levels and even more money to 'invest' in the new federal programs.
The automatic spending cuts, know as the sequester, would total $1.2 trillion. That is not $1.2 trillion in one year, which is the average annual federal deficit that the nation has endured during the 4 years of Obama's presidency. No, the sequester calls for $1.2 trillion per year over a 9-year period. For 2013, the expected spending cuts from the sequester would be about $109 billion out of a $3.6 trillion total budget, or approximately 3% of the total budget.
As the negotiations for resolving the fiscal cliff have continued one thing has become very clear: Obama has no desire to cut spending levels at all. In fact, he has actually called for more spending rather than less. This spending would be for more 'investments' in education and green energy projects. And he would also like to extend unemployment by requesting funds to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. Basically he wants to keep as many people as possible living off the government for as long as possible.
Given Obama's position, which is shared by most other democrats, the Republicans should absolutely do nothing to break the sequester deal. Those spending cuts are set to occur automatically unless they are halted as part of any fiscal cliff deal. But this may be the last and best chance for the Republicans to actually get spending cuts under Obama. If they pass on this moment, there will not be another one for at least four more years.
Harry Reid, in his lack of leadership in the Senate, has failed to pass a budget for over three years. There is no reason to expect that he will attempt to pass one in the next four years. And if there is no budget then all programs will continue to be funded on their current upward trajectory through a series of continuing resolutions. With the sequester, though, it puts in place a mechanism to at least attempt to bring spending down in some areas.
Republicans hate the sequester because half of the spending cuts are in national defense. That is a bitter pill to swallow, but they must do that. To date they have been hammered by the liberal media for being too intransigent on tax rates. By allowing the sequester, they can then claim the high ground by showing that they have been willing to compromise by allowing the spending cuts in defense. In exchange, they will get some spending cuts in some of the programs preferred by the democrats. And if after a few years nobody seems to actually miss any of those spending cuts, then it will put them in a strong position to say that not all federal spending is needed after all and potentially set the stage for more cuts.
The Republicans agreed to the sequester as part of the debt ceiling fight for one reason - to try to get some discipline out of Washington and make some attempt to rein in the runaway spending spree that the federal government has been on since 2008. They should now honor their oath of office to protect the American people by honoring the deal they made to allow the increase of the debt ceiling. If they fail to do so now they may never get this chance to curb the growth of the federal government again.