Professor comments on looming sequestration deadline, fiscal policy debates
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 22, 2013 00:02
President Obama spoke on deficit reduction Tuesday, a mere ten days before the sequestration deadline.
With the nation’s budget at the forefront of many concerns, the focus is on the fact that it “seems less and less likely” that Congress and the President will reach an alternative agreement before March 1.
Professor Matthew Wilson of the SMU Political Science Department called the refusal of compromise “a pretty dysfunctional situation.”
However, he said that regardless, the sequestration is working the way it is supposed to.
“President Obama wanted the sequestration in place to ensure Congress would have no choice but to come up with some deficit reduction package,” Wilson said.
At this point in time, however, Congress “would have to kind of cobble something together pretty quickly” to stop the sequestration cuts from going into effect on the deadline, according to Wilson.
When the sequestration terms were originally drafted, Wilson said both parties “agreed at the time” with the expectation that such “looming, automatic cuts [would] guarantee there [would] be deficit cuts.”
Wilson said such expectations might have been wrongly preemptory.
“Both sides secretly—or, not so secretly—hoped that they would achieve total victory during the 2012 elections,” Wilson said.
As this was not the case, Congress and the president are now at a standstill fighting for either party’s terms.
“The president has put forth some ideas, mostly in terms of tax increases,” Wilson said.
“[However], he’s only always very vague about spending cuts.”
Especially after Obama successfully put in place his first set of tax increases at the start of the year, the Congressional majority is fighting for its preference.
“The House Republicans don’t want to entertain the idea of any tax increases of any sort; they pretty much have a cuts-only mentality,” Wilson said. “That’s not an approach President Obama wants to take.”
Wilson explained that either way, there are unavoidable consequences through either solution.
“Raising taxes or cutting spending will put some drag on economic growth,” Wilson said. “But if you want to do the deficit, you’ve got to do it.”
Even with inevitable hits to the economy, Wilson said that a “different configuration of cuts could be less damaging” if either side were willing to compromise.
“There’s an argument to be made that the sequestration cuts are more painful than they need to be,” Wilson said.
One aspect in the sequestration debate is an unexpected stance around military cuts.
It stems from the fact that come March 1, “a lot of the cuts fall on defense.” The Democrats—at the time of drafting the sequestration—worked on the strategy that “defense has traditionally been something Republicans really want to protect.”
Such strategy, according to Wilson, may have been lost.
“There’s a growing group of Republicans who think that it is so desperately essential [to significantly lower the deficit] that they are willing to even take defense cuts,” Wilson said.
The growing argument to go ahead and “let the sequestration happen” in many ways stems from that.