Sequestration — What it really means

Bonnie Willis's picture

With all the fear and rhetoric going on about the sequestration and the impending deadline for the “across the board cuts in federal spending” to take place in less than a week, I think it is important to take everything in context and understand how we got to this point, the real numbers involved, and the implications of what this means for our government and ourselves.

Sequestration was a term and idea that came to be during the summer of 2011 when the U.S. Congress was in a financial battle over how to deal with the federal budget (our annual projected spending at a federal level) and our federal deficit (how much our nation is in debt).

At the time our national debt was just under $15 trillion, and we were going to max out our national credit card. (By the way, $15 trillion represents 15 million millionaires — that’s a lot of money!)

Many advocated that we raise the debt ceiling to avoid this fiscal crisis, but a few people said we should not raise the debt ceiling because the longer we delayed dealing with the issue of debt and government spending the more difficult and severe the solution would be when we did finally had to deal with it.

The House, the Senate, and the President were at an impasse on how to deal with the issue.

As a solution to this impasse, President Obama’s administration proposed the idea that if the debt ceiling was raised, the government would demonstrate fiscal discipline by imposing sequestration that would decrease the federal government’s rate of spending by approximately $1 trillion over the course of 10 years starting in 2013.

With nearly half of these decreases hitting our military, it was presumed Republicans would never allow it, and with the other half coming from domestic spending, it was presumed Democrats would never allow it. Both parties and the president would have to work together to find a better long-term solution.

In the end, all parties conceded. The debt ceiling was raised. The sequestration trigger was put in place and the crisis was delayed until now.

Once again, we are in “financial crisis” and less than a week away from the across-the-board reductions. Last week, the president made dire warnings of what would happen if sequestration did go through, and it ranged from civil servants losing their jobs to the very safety and security of our nation being at risk. He stated that these were very real, potential consequences.

However, even a cursory look at the projected numbers, in my humble estimation, seems to be disproportionate to the president’s stated consequences.

Of the $1 trillion over 10 years, approximately $85 billion would hit this year. This amount represents less than 2 percent of the federal government’s $3.65 trillion budget.

Of this budget, approximately two-thirds are non-discretionary and would be paid automatically.

So, reductions in spending would have to come from non-discretionary side of the budget, or $1.2 trillion.

An $85 billion dollar reduction still represents approximately 7 percent of the federal government’s budget.

Wow, only 7 percent!

The federal government cannot exercise the fiscal discipline to cut 7 percent of non-discretionary spending?

When I look at my own family, we’ve had to make some major cuts in our own budget to adjust for the increasing cost of food, clothes, and gas. And all of these have gone up a whole lot more than a mere 2-7 percent!

Bottom line, it appears to me the discussion around sequestration is less about actual numbers and more about what the act represents — a process that is forcing all political parties to curtail their spending that precious few of our officials seems to want to do.

My gut reaction is that if this is how our federal government responds to such a modicum degree of fiscal discipline, imagine if they had to deal with the cuts we, the American people, have had to make when it comes to our own budgets in recent years.

Exercising discipline in any area of life is never easy, but it is what mature, responsible people have to do. Hopefully, the same will one day be said for our federal government.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children. She writes occasional opinion columns for The Citizen.]

stranger than f...
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GOP must stop playing into Obama's hands

Even though it is not fair, the GOP will take the blame nationally for the sequestration and any inconveniences it causes. Just like a Peanuts cartoon, Obama holds the football; when the Republicans approach the ball, he jerks it away, and they magnificently whiff while the President laughs at them.

We might not like it or understand it, but the majority of voting Americans favor this President. The GOP only bolsters Obama’s attraction by opposing his every initiative. When he fails, he simply blames the “sore loser, obstructionist Republicans.” As Gov. Jindal said in January, Republicans must stop being the “stupid party.”

John Boehner should find some inconsequential tax loopholes that affect millionaires and agree to close them as part of the sequestration compromise. Obama takes credit for being a populist champion, but the Republicans will be seen as leaders instead of spoiled children who only hate the President, and their other budget ideas have a chance of passing. If Grover Norquist or the tea partiers even whimper, they should be strongly reprimanded by the national party.

It’s time that the GOP had a constructive say in our national politics instead of merely being the party of “No.” Then the President would be forced to account for his own actions.

S. Lindsey
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DOOM...

DOOM.. DESPAIR... AGONY the Sequester is coming the sequester is coming.. Oh wait it's here and the Sun still rose.. pfffff

Robert W. Morgan
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I think that Prezbo has finally jumped the shark on this one

Many people like Bonnie have concluded that the 2% extra payroll tax we were hit with last month was slightly inconvenient, but not the end of the world. Therefore, when Obama make wild claims about government's 2% cuts being the end of the world, it just does not make any sense. Of course the Woodward thing drew in a lot of people who might otherwise not be paying attention. Obama now has a credibility problem if we all live through today, next week and next month. His own publicity raised the awareness level and that's what will ruin him. People might start demanding some leadership and governing and possibly even a budget. Imagine that. Even Jimmy Carter who was full of whacky liberal ideas was able to produce a budget by letting the House and Senate do it's work.

I guess this phony crisis is all about getting Democrats elected in the next mid-terms. Might work if we have 2 more years without a budget and he can label the House as a do-nothing Congress. Then the Dems with all their stellar financial and budgeting ability can come in and save the day. Seems farfetched to me.

S. Lindsey
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Nah Robert the Low Informational voters...

...will just accept it was the Republicans that cried wolf not Obama.. To heck with all the videos.. Can't even use You Tube in their own words...DM has proclaimed it to be false too...

PTC Observer
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Punish Americans - To

destroy the opposition party, the Obama administration, that controls the bureaucracy will make certain that these cuts will punish Americans as soon as possible.

The public, he hopes, will turn on the Republicans.

A plague on both their houses!

Davids mom
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Another point of view - PTCO

Punish Americans to destroy the opposition party. (the Republicans) who still want to appear to control the bureaucracy will make certain that these cuts will punish Americans as soon as possible. The Republicans hope that the public will then turn on the Democrats.

Is anyone working for the American people? We're paying their salaries!!

PTC Observer
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DM

No

Davids mom
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PTCO

Your answer is so true - and hopefully heard by the American people. Regardless of our different views on causes and possible solutions to problems, we need persons in Congress who work for all citizens - not just the 'party'.

S. Lindsey
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On Sequestration...

“I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts,” said Obama from the White House’s briefing room, adding “the only way to get rid of those cuts is to get Congress to come together and work on a deal.”

Obama's threat to Republicans who threatened to kill the Sequestration... Nov. 2011

"Obama used his weekly address to make a blunt and pointed speech, pinning the blame for the situation squarely at the doors of Republicans in Congress, whom he said were refusing to compromise on the issue of taxing the wealthy and so scuppering any chance of a deal to avoid potential disaster." Feb. 2013

Is he lying or is he just lying?

AtHomeGym
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Sequestration

I believe theHouse has already passed two bills that would avoid sequesration and the Senate has failed to act. Would someone pls kick Harry Reid into action?

PTC Observer
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AHG - These

two bills expired at the end of the last Congress. The House must pass another bill to be considered by the Senate this year.

I guess Speaker Boehner doesn't understand how the Congress works?

AtHomeGym
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PTCO & Congress

I guess I don't either! That still doesn't explain why the Senate didn't act on them before.

Davids mom
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Review our lessons on 'bills'

In most schools, we were given a lesson on 'how a bill becomes a law' around the fifth grade. We trust our legislators to Remember! Those who experience a cut in pay or loss of employment will vote!

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