The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Wednesday, Oct. 7, 3:46 p.m.

Democrats should stop playing blame game with deficit

With the budget sequestration looming over March, the Democrats have had a busy week, trying to publicly shame Republicans for allowing the supposedly draconian budget cuts to go into effect while simultaneously distancing themselves from the policy. The problem, though is that the policy is a complete and total sham.

The automatic spending cuts, scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of next month, came to be with the passage of the Budget Control Act. On August 2, 2011, President Barack Obama signed the act into order, to avoid the debt ceiling crisis. In return for a $900 billion debt ceiling increase, $915 billion dollars would be cut from the federal budget, between 2012 and 2021. The specific cuts were to be determined by a so-called Congressional “budget supercommittee.” If the committee failed to come to an agreement within a predetermined time frame — which it did — automatic cuts would be triggered: half from defense spending and half from non-defense spending.

The trigger was proposed by Obama’s Chief of Staff Jack Lew, who has since been nominated for Treasury secretary, and Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors as a way to coerce Republicans into voting for Democratic tax increases and spending policy. The idea was that the GOP would never allow the defense budget to be cut so drastically — $51 billion in the first year alone — but when Republicans refused to be baited, the Democratic blame game began.

In truth, the idea originated in Obama’s White House, was introduced into the Senate by Democrat Tom Harkin and was eventually signed into law by Obama. From start to finish, Democrats are totally responsible for the sequester. However, because it’s unpopular, it will result in job loss, and it is dangerous from a defense standpoint, Democrats don’t want to be held accountable.

Enter the current narrative: Democrats have already taken action to cut the budget, and the obstructionist Republicans, wishing to protect Wall Street fat cats and special interests, aren’t interested in further action.

The Democratic leadership, namely Harry Reid, is claiming the party has already cut $2.5 trillion from non-defense spending, and further cuts would be dangerous for the anemic recovery. Instead, they argue taxes should be raised again, to close loopholes.

But these cuts are also mythical. The $2.5 trillion number includes estimated revenue from the recent tax hikes, reduced interest payments and future caps on spending from projected budgets through 2022, which were outlined through the same legislation that created the sequester. In reality, they’ve taken no action. And the sequester really doesn’t create long-term cuts; it decreases and increases in growth in future spending. Projected deficits continue to rise in future.

Of the immediate reductions in military spending, the danger is the political nature of the sequester, which creates arbitrary lines to cut, rather than curb waste and mismanagement in the defense budget. At the same time, the long-term risks to the economy’s stability — unfunded and bankrupt welfare programs — remain unreformed.

Meanwhile, as a result of cuts, many defense contractors may lose their jobs and the majority, if not all, of federal workers will be furloughed — forced to take days off without pay. This will be detrimental to the anemic economy.

No wonder Obama and his cronies don’t want to be associated with the sequestration: It creates a short-term crisis without dealing with the long-term one. But by placing blame on Republicans, Democrats only make the situation worse. The only way to avoid the government shutdown, which many conservatives ideologically support, is across-the-aisle emergency legislation. Ostracizing Republicans is certainly not going to facilitate this, and it’s in Obama’s best interest to work with his opponents — the entire fiasco falls squarely on his shoulders.

Katherine Revello is a second-year journalism and political science student.