Our Opinion: ‘Sequestration’ and the cycle of procrastination

News Tribune editorial

If you’re not already familiar with the word “sequestration” stay tuned. You are going to hear much more about it in the future.

Linguistically, to sequester means to set aside, pending a decision.

Politically, the U.S. Congress has decided to sequester budget appropriations unless and until budget decisions are made.

Readers of this forum will recognize our disappointment with elected leaders and representatives who are reluctant to take any action that risks losing votes.

Sequestration allows congressmen to avoid unpopular budget cuts, while creating a mechanism that will do the job for them. The mechanism, however, is so drastic, it is expected to prompt a hue and cry to rescind its provisions.

As a consequence, the status quo of inaction is likely to prevail.

A less simplified description of the process is provided by Dr. Paul M. Johnson in “A Glossary of Political Economy Terms.”

He wrote: “If the dozen or so appropriation bills passed separately by Congress provide for total government spending in excess of the limits Congress earlier laid down for itself in the annual Budget Resolution, and if Congress cannot agree on ways to cut back the total (or does not pass a new, higher Budget Resolution), then an ‘automatic’ form of spending cutback takes place. This automatic spending cut is what is called ‘sequestration.’”

Johnson added: “The prospect of sequestration has thus come to seem so catastrophic that Congress so far has been unwilling actually to let it happen. Instead, Congress has repeatedly chosen simply to raise the Budget Resolution spending caps upward toward the end of the legislative session in order to match the actual totals already appropriated, thus largely wiping out the incentives that the reformed budget procedures were expected to provide for Congress to get better control of the budget deficit.”

Which is government-speak for business as usual.

In the meantime, watch for pleas to avoid automatic spending cuts, not unlike the arguments made by former U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton and by Marion Blakey.

In the end, the draconian cuts likely will be averted, spending gaps will be raised and the cycle of deficit spending will continue. But be assured a deadline will be imposed to deal with the problem, or else, somewhere down the road.

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