Having forsaken hopes of a settlement to avert the self-imposed austerity cuts known as "sequestration," progressive critics of the unfolding events continued to decry the folly on Friday.
Not reserving their ire for politicians alone, critics put much of the blame for the current state of affairs squarely at the door of the media, who busily made work of the "blame game" in Washington but generally failed to recognize the larger context within which the sequestration battle was occurring.
The media is focused on the possible effects of the cuts. But what is actually being sequestered is any sensible debate about the fundamental changes needed to revive the middle class and make this economy work for working families once more. The old economy – and the failed economic ideas that drove it – benefited the few, while undermining the broad middle class, even before the collapse.
And his colleague Richard Eskow adds that the media's role, though deplorable, should not mistake one simple fact: "this is an act of Congress." What the media failed to address over and over, he writes, is that the entire charade of "crisis" was invented by Congress in the first place.
The “Sequester” follows the long-standing “trigger” strategy we first wrote about in 2011. The idea, which was probably dreamed up by some high-priced consultant, seems to be this: Pass a bill that creates some “trigger” effect at some point in the future. If nothing else is done the “trigger” goes off, and highly unpopular and destructive spending cuts will go into effect as if untouched by human hand.
By using the “trigger” strategy, politicians believed (and apparently still believe) that they can escape the political and moral consequences of their own actions. It wasn’t me that did these things, they can argue, it was the “trigger.”
The forces of austerity have cooked up a number of triggers during their multi-year battle against government, which escalated right after Wall Street decimated the economy. They’ve had different names: Debt ceiling. “SaveGo.” Fiscal cliff. And now, Sequester.
Each was a strategem for imposing austerity economics on an unwilling population. Each was a crude device, a political IED designed to explode after its designers had left the scene of the crime.
As Robert Reich points out, "sequestration" is being heralded as a victory by Tea Party members of Congress. He quotes Congressman Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), a Tea Partier elected in 2010, who said of the cuts: “This will be the first significant tea party victory in that we got what we set out to do in changing Washington.”
Sequestration is only the start. What they set out to do was not simply change Washington but eviscerate the U.S. government — “drown it in the bathtub,” in the words of their guru Grover Norquist – slashing Social Security and Medicare, ending worker protections we’ve had since the 1930s, eroding civil rights and voting rights, terminating programs that have helped the poor for generations, and making it impossible for the government to invest in our future.
Sequestration grew out of a strategy hatched soon after they took over the House in 2011, to achieve their goals by holding hostage the full faith and credit of the United States – notwithstanding the Constitution’s instruction that the public debt of the United States “not be questioned.”
To avoid default on the public debt, the White House and House Republicans agreed to harsh and arbitrary “sequestered” spending cuts if they couldn’t come up with a more reasonable deal in the interim. But the Tea Partiers had no intention of agreeing to anything more reasonable. They knew the only way to dismember the federal government was through large spending cuts without tax increases.
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And Eskow follows by saying, "Let’s call that act what it is: An act of aggression, aimed at the heart of our nation’s social contract. These destructive and needless cuts, whose only purpose is to benefit the wealthy, are a civic crime. And Capitol Hill is the scene of the crime."
Progressive US Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont this week spoke about the devastating impact of the cuts with MSNBC's Tamron Hall:
Andrew Fieldhouse, policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, explains why "sequestration" was never about fiscal responsibility, writing:
Blindly cutting government spending in a depressed economy is not fiscally responsible: You end up trading smaller structural budget deficits for bigger cyclical budget deficits, and a smaller economy makes the fiscal outlook relatively less sustainable. Similarly, cutting government programs that pay for themselves—simply because they are government programs—is not fiscally responsible.
That sequestration is in many ways counterproductive to long-run fiscal responsibility and will cause substantial disruptions to government operations and services is not an accident. [...]
The Budget Control Act and its sequester were never about fiscal responsibility—indeed its inception stemmed from the mind-boggling fiscally irresponsible act of hijacking the debt ceiling and playing chicken with a self-induced debt crisis.
Among the critics of the unfolding but predictable disaster, there is also some agreement about solutions.
For one, repeal the sequester. Rep. John Conyers has introduced a bill to do exactly that. It’s called, reasonably enough, the “Cancel the Sequester Act" and reads simply thus: "Section 251A of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Act of 1985 is repealed." The proposal, however, has almost zero chance of receiving a vote in the Republican-controlled House.
Two, as Reich says, President Obama should forget about a so-called "grand bargain" and instead focus on creating jobs, increasing wages, and dampening massive inequality.
Three, as Eskow challenges, we must call out elected leaders for behaving like "idiots."
"Let’s hold the guilty parties accountable," Eskow writes, "Especially as the chaos they’ve created rains down around us. Let’s not forget that the Sequester is really a weapon – a weapon whose purpose is to harm government and those it serves. In the end, that includes all but the most powerful among us. Let’s respond in a measured, appropriate, and high-minded way to this act, but let’s not forget who’s committing the act."
And, as Borosage suggests, the American people must begin to look for solutions outside of Washington if they desire an escape from the fiscal madness of austerity.
"Two years ago," he concludes, "Occupy Wall Street showed what it took to 'change the conversation,' as the pundits described it. It will take a much more powerful and disruptive movement to actually begin to drive the reforms we need."