Washington, D.C., is once again on the verge of another manufactured crisis. On March 1, the sequester, a series of mandated spending cuts, is set to kick in, threatening the country with another round of austerity measures that will cut jobs and bring down an already-fragile economy. But instead of acting to prevent the cuts, congressional Republicans are playing the blame game and ignoring the full context of their own obstructionism.
In Ohio, the drastic cuts will force the federal government to furlough 26,000 civilian defense employees, risk 350 teacher and aide jobs and take away $6.9 million for clean air and water enforcement, among many other changes. For the entire nation, the sequester will cut $85 billion by the end of the year, affecting all sorts of items: national parks, hurricane relief programs, education programs, food-safety inspection, unemployment benefits and defense spending.
The cuts are unique because they’re set to trigger very swiftly. It’s one thing to reduce the nation’s deficits over time, but cutting spending so drastically in such a short time span will cause a shock in the nation’s economy — far from ideal when unemployment and economic growth are already showing signs of slowdown.
In response, President Barack Obama has taken his arguments to the American people. For the past few weeks, Obama and other White House officials have been campaigning around the country and releasing all sorts of documents and infographics to explain the sequester and its potential consequences. But the campaign hasn’t sparked much interest from congressional Republicans, who seem increasingly content with the big spending cuts.
Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, responded to Obama’s campaign in a tweet: “Americans would be better off if White House spent less time campaigning (about the sequester) and more time working (with) us to avert it.”
In politics, it’s very easy for historical context to get lost, but Portman’s tweet does away with any immediate context as well. The only reason Obama is campaigning is because attempts to work with congressional Republicans failed so miserably. The White House and Democrats have repeatedly put out plans that replace the sequester with a balanced plan that cuts spending in the long term and closes tax loopholes to produce more revenue. Republicans have flat-out rejected all the proposals because they refuse any plan that passes more tax revenue, no matter how sensible it is.
Republicans’ anti-tax position makes even less sense in a broader historical context. It’s only been four months since Republicans lost the 2012 election by running against any tax increases, even on the wealthiest Americans. They lost the White House, and voters approved more Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Republicans even lost the popular vote for the U.S. House of Representatives, but they managed to keep more seats because widespread politicized redistricting gave them an unfair advantage in congressional maps.
Polling has repeatedly shown Americans are not OK with a plan that slashes spending and fails to raise taxes. A recent survey from the Pew Research Center found Americans like the idea of cutting federal spending in the abstract, but when asked about specific programs, there was no plan that gained majority support, with only foreign aid cuts getting plurality support.
Another poll in November from ABC and The Washington Post found 60 percent of Americans favor a tax hike for those making $250,000 and more. Only 37 percent of those polled opposed a tax increase.
Even the wealthy support higher taxes on themselves. A December survey from American Express Publishing and The Harrison Group found that more than half of the top 1 percent favor raising taxes on those making $500,000 and more.
Republicans can blame the White House all they want, but the sequester is a direct consequence of their party failing to listen to the average American voter.
Other News and Stuff
A report from Policy Matters Ohio found local government funding, which helps cities and counties, has been reduced by $1.4 billion since Gov. John Kasich took office.
Barry Horstman, veteran investigative reporter at The Cincinnati Enquirer, collapsed and died in the newsroom Feb. 25. CityBeat offers its condolences to Horstman’s co-workers, family and friends.
CONTACT GERMAN LOPEZ: [email protected] or @germanrlopez