Vail Daily columnist Richard Carnes: Sequestration made simple |

Vail Daily columnist Richard Carnes: Sequestration made simple

Republicans have spent years yelling for spending cuts, and now that they have them, they are telling us how bad they are and how they are going to ruin the already fragile economy.

This whole “we were against them before we were for them” babble sounds eerily like John Kerry back in 2004, but is it really so simple as blaming the elephants for flip-flopping whenever the winds of Obama change direction?

Of course not.

Ezra Klein over at The Washington Post pointed out that it was back in the summer of 2011 when the Republicans in Congress refused to raise the debt ceiling (our already owed expenses, not new ones) without major deficit reductions in return.

The congressional Democrats, in turn, refused any major deficit reductions unless they included particular tax increases, as well, which, of course, the congressional Republicans refused.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

These elected geniuses thought they could force each other to do what the other repeatedly says it will never do.

What could possibly go wrong?

So how did Congress use their collective wisdom to – pardon the phrase – “solve the problem?”

They came up with the “sequester,” a mindless 5 percent across-the-board government spending cut that ironically protects more government waste than it cuts. This allowed the debt ceiling to be raised (hooray!), but they promised each other that only under the most extreme situation known to mankind (like a biblical apocalypse, only real) would they ever allow the actual sequester to occur (boo!).

And certainly they’d have it all figured out by Jan. 1 of 2013.

They immediately produced the poorly named “Super Committee” but then quickly discovered each congressional toilet seat was lined with kryptonite in the form of lobbyist dollars and re-election votes. They were dead (re: unelectable) if they touched it, so it went nowhere.

Then came the 2012 election. Surely something would be done by then.

Republicans knew that if they won the White House, the American people would have spoken and the issue of tax increases would be settled once and for all, but if Obama stuck around for another four years, then the American people would be singing a different tune and they would be OK with cutting the deficit with tax increases (along with spending cuts).

But, of course, that didn’t really change anything, either. So here we are, a year and a half later, trying to figure out how to stop what both sides said could never be allowed to happen.

I’m no economist and, although once elected, certainly not a politician. But try to follow along, as this is really not complicated at all.

Poorly planned, across-the-board spending cuts are bad, while well-planned, targeted-toward-government-waste cuts are good.

Still with me?

All Congress has to do, within the next few days, is change the wording for the sequestration to say that it must cut wasteful government programs (such as the billions for oil company subsidies in Democratic districts) while leaving non-wasteful programs intact (such as the billions for oil company subsidies in Republican districts).

What could possibly go wrong?

Richard Carnes, of Edwards, writes weekly. He can be reached at

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