During the recent crises in Washington, there was a general understanding of the stakes: a government shutdown is bad for the economy; failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic for the economy.
But what if there was something in between? Not as bad as default but worse than a shutdown?
As it happens, that’s exactly what we have now with the policy known as “the sequester.” As David Dayen recently explained, “It was an awful time. Federal employees had to take unpaid furlough days. Beneficiaries were thrown off of federal programs. Courthouses had to be sold. Federal agencies like the FBI, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health strained to meet commitments, leading to more crime, more outbreaks of disease and less basic research, among other horrors.”
He wasn’t describing the shutdown; he was talking about ongoing sequestration cuts. The policy was designed to inflict real harm on the nation, and it’s “working” as intended.
The Obama administration hasn’t given up on putting an end to this nonsense.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Thursday said House and Senate budget negotiators should replace the sequester with other spending cuts.Lew said the sequester has been a drag on the economy, and that it should be replaced with longer-term measures to reduce spending.“If we can agree on sensible medium and long term policies to replace these cuts we can do something good for the economy now,” Lew said at a policy conference hosted by the liberal Center for American Progress.
Lew didn’t specify an alternative, but one gets the sense he’s open to suggestion.
Coincidentally, Roll Call reports today that several Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee “have grown increasingly vocal in their dissatisfaction” with the sequestration policy.
What’s more, the New York Times has a new piece from Steven Rattner, who argued, “Without Congressional action, the forced sequester cuts will have an even greater effect as they are fully implemented in this fiscal year. It’s time that policy makers recognize the damage they are doing to the economy with their short-term thinking and imprudent fiscal decisions.”
Given all of this, it’s tempting to assume progress is possible – if Washington still recognizes the economy as a priority, hurting it on purpose seems like a bad idea – though Republican leaders have been reluctant to consider replacing the sequester. Indeed, by some measures, GOP leaders now say they like the sequestration policy they initially said they hated.
It suggests progress will be hard to come by, though my standards have dropped to the point that I’m thrilled when **someone** in a position of authority is still talking about doing “something good for the economy.”