Sequester showdown charade (commentary)

Sequester showdown charade (commentary)

Even when Congress writes its own rules, it can't seem to abide by them. Add March 1 to the latest string of deadlines Congress has imposed on itself only to miss them and break its promises.

EVEN when Congress writes its own rules, it can't seem to abide by them. Add March 1 to the latest string of deadlines Congress has imposed on itself only to miss them and break its promises.

Sequestration, or automatic spending cuts, was always designed to be a threat -- a catalyst to get politics out of the way and bring lawmakers to the table. Instead, everyone is worrying about to whom they can pin the most political fallout resulting from the charade.

The White House lacks leadership on the problem and has treated this more as a campaign issue instead of realizing that missing the deadline is like hacking at the nation's budget with an axe rather than with the precision of a scalpel.

The House said it already has passed two bills that would avert the spending cuts and instead waited on the Senate.

Remember the Senate Democrats' plan to eliminate direct payments in the farm bill to pay for all of the non-defense sequester cuts? That's dead in the water too, along with Republicans' counter-approach that left direct payments in place.

The political spin has been in overdrive the last few months. Before the fiscal cliff deal, it was the threat of $8/gal. milk at the grocery store -- the spark to get the farm bill extended. For the sequester, the Obama Administration has used the forced furloughs of Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) employees as the scare tactic to try to spur action.

Last Monday, the White House reiterated that sequestration would put food safety at risk because the Food & Drug Administration could conduct 2,100 fewer inspections at domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture food products, while FSIS may have to furlough all employees for approximately two weeks.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it is taking steps to minimize the impact of the furloughs on consumers, employees and the meat industry, but "there is no question that sequestration will have an adverse impact on food inspection services."

USDA spokesperson Courtney Rowe said the timing of the furloughs remains unknown, with several furlough negotiation steps required.

All FSIS employees must be given at least a 30-day written notice, some of which must be hand-delivered. At that time, bargaining unit employees may ask for an oral conference, and then further negotiations can occur, making the process "complex and time-consuming."

For those who think sequestration needs to happen to help jolt the economy back into shape and to lower the national debt, think again. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, in the absence of sequestration, gross domestic product would be about 0.6% greater during this calendar year, and the equivalent of about 750,000 more full-time jobs would be created or retained by the fourth quarter.

Sequestration is going to reduce the deficit by only $42 billion this year, even though the automatic budget cuts total $85 billion. This is because some of the budget would be used to buy goods or services that won't be provided and paid for until next year or later.

The next congressional showdown is set for March 27, when a continuing resolution to fund the government expires. If this history of missed deadlines continues to repeat itself, it looks like we're in for another charade where no one steps up to settle the problems facing the nation.

Volume:85 Issue:09

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