Sequestration is like the sand in an hour glass. When the sand starts falling, it does not seem to amount to much. The full section of the hour glass seems not to change, at least at first. Yet at a certain moment it becomes clear that the sand is disappearing and that what was once full is now approaching empty.
When sequestration began, it began with a whimper. Discussions took place for months about the dangers of sequestration. We were led to believe that it was not very likely that it would actually happen because, after all, neither side really wanted to court such a potential disaster. We were wrong on a number of counts.
The first danger that we have to acknowledge is that sequestration actually is to the advantage of the Republicans. They are the ones looking for cuts. Yes, some of them are complaining about this or that cut, but the reality is that they are seeking cuts. In that sense, they can live with sequestration, or at least they think that they can. There is, as a result, no pressure on their side to end this.
The second danger is precisely the hour glass problem. In the beginning, there seemed to be little damage. Federal workers, of course, were upset, but many people are prepared to write off federal workers. In fact, too many people have thought about sequestration as punishing federal workers for any number of alleged evils. So, large segments of the public have been willing to let it happen.
The third danger is that no one seems to have a clear sense as to how to arrive at a budget that would actually end sequestration. That is the punch line: there are vastly different views on what government should look like and what it should fund.
Yet, with sequestration some strange things started to happen. An excellent example has been the closing of airport control towers around the country. In one story from the Midwest, pro-sequestration citizens were shocked to discover that sequestration meant that the airport control tower in their home town was going to be shuttered. Ooops! Was that supposed to happen?
Sequestration, as with other austerity measures, is a response to an imaginary crisis. The notion that the main problem facing the U.S.A. is debt is irrational. The main challenge is job creation and income. With job creation and income one gains tax revenue. Continuous cutting means fewer people on the payrolls and deeper levels of debt and poverty. One does not need to be an economist to see that reality.
Sequestration and other austerity plans are aimed at strangling the government and forcing an end to various programs that have been won over the last century. This is precisely what is meant when the right-wing suggests that it wants to return government to the size that it was under President McKinley (1898), i.e., to return government to the size that it was prior to regulations to protect our food, prior to unemployment insurance, prior to programs for the homeless, etc.
While many people have watched and yawned as sequestration has unfolded, the reality is that the sand is dropping faster and faster, and soon enough we will all find that we have been touched by further unnecessary, and frankly immoral, cuts.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.