Sequester a failure of leadership
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 09:03
So, that happened.
On Friday, in total non-defiance of both recent history and national expectations, Congress failed to come to an agreement to avert the latest unnecessary self-inflicted wound on the nation in the form of the so-called sequester.
This is only the most recent in a long string of leadership failures on the part of House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In fact, it would be fair to say that Boehner’s speakership has been among the worst in our nation’s history. It’s so bad that commentator Rachel Maddow of MSNBC invented a meme to go with it, the “John Boehner is bad at his job” hypothesis. Don’t believe me? Perhaps it’s time for a review of Boehner’s “accomplishments” over the past two years.
On the day he assumed his speakership, just about the only thing that went right was that he didn’t hit himself with that enormous gavel outgoing speaker Nancy Pelosi handed him. The gavel Boehner uses is so cartoonishly, ridiculously, embarrassingly huge that one wonders if perhaps he isn’t compensating for something. But that aside, on the day he was supposed to swear in the new congress (his congress), two of the newly-elected Republican representatives failed to show up. This is kind of the congressional equivalent of being late to your own wedding.
And then, a few days later, as the first order of business, the new congress tried to read aloud the Constitution of the United States. And there, live on television, we were treated to the spectacle of newly-elected Representatives screwing up the reading of a document they all claimed to love and respect, stumbling over phrases, failing to read sections whose pages got stuck together, and in some cases actually skipping over sections they found, shall we say, politically inconvenient to read.
Things didn’t get any better from there.
The first order of business for Boehner’s House was to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which got a party-line majority vote and had many of the incoming freshmen bragging about their “accomplishment.” The repeal vote failed in the Senate and never stood a chance of being signed by the president who’d pushed the law, so Boehner’s first legislative achievement was a failure.
Since then, his party has lurched from one self-inflicted wound to another, unable to find direction or even discipline. They’ve voted against ideas proposed by Obama that were virtually identical to their own (remember cap-and-trade?) simply because Obama proposed them. They’ve hypocritically voted against raising the debt limit, something they did dozens of times under the previous administration. They’ve refused to meet Obama even halfway on budget issues, redefining “compromise” as “he gives us everything we want, and gets nothing in return.”
The budgets they’ve proposed rely on more smoke and mirrors than a David Copperfield show. They’re desperately clinging various versions of the dead-on-arrival Ryan plan, which on its face isn’t any better than the sequester, and has been rejected by the president and thinking people across the country. And all the while, they’ve repeatedly blamed the president for failing to pass a budget.
Legislation requires compromise, not hostage-taking. For the past two years the House and Senate Republicans have repeatedly held a gun to the country’s head and threatened to pull the trigger if they didn’t get everything they wanted, and because he actually has principles and cares about the nation, Obama has made last-minute deals with them to avert crisis.
Lest we forget, the budget is essentially a law, and in America it’s the legislature that writes budgets, based on consultation on national fiscal policy with the president. We aren’t a monarchy; if Boener wants some of his priorities passed, he has to be willing to work with the president. A national budget has to be a blend of party goals. One party can’t dominate the entire process, no matter what Tea Party Republicans want.
No doubt, we need to get our fiscal house in order, but spending cuts alone won’t do it. You’ve got to have revenue, yet even Obama’s modest tax proposals have been met with vitriolic hate from the right. So far, Boehner and his Tea Party puppeteers have been unwilling to give anything. He’s so bad at his job, he can’t even whip his freshmen into shape.
Which brings us, once again, to the latest self-inflicted, totally unnecessary, utterly moronic crisis, the sequester.
A quick review. Last year, when the House failed to draft a credible budget for the umpteenth time, it was decided that just having the usual House and Senate committees working on it separately wasn’t good enough, and so a so-called “supercommittee” of six representatives and six senators was formed. They argued for a while, failed to come to an agreement (as expected) and came up with this legislation that was so bad, so insane that everyone on both sides thought the other side would cave before it could be passed. The cuts we’re facing now as a result of that slight tactical miscalculation, are indiscriminate and stupid. Federal workers have already been furloughed, further adding to our continuing economic woes. If allowed to continue unabated, vital programs will feel the pinch, without regard to need or benefit. National defense will suffer. Education programs like Head Start, that many schools rely on to help disadvantaged children get a start in life, will feel the pain. Student Pell Grants and loan programs may even be cut. At the local level, ordinary people will have less money to spend, taking money out of the economy and further slowing growth. The slow-but-steady growth we’ve experienced under Obama will probably grind to a halt, and may even slide back into recession.