The Sequester Is Terrible Policy. Let’s Not Do It.

On March 1, the “sequester” kicks in. It’s a sizable cut to both domestic and defense programs, pushed through as part of the 2011 deal to prevent default by raising the debt ceiling. And it’s a genuinely stupid idea that Congress should cancel.

If the sequester happens, it’s estimated that it will cost us about 1.4 million jobs. That’s a huge hit to our painfully slow recovery—it is just over half of all the net jobs the economy created in 2012. It’s a blunt-instrument cut to all sorts of federal spending: grant programs for public schools, air traffic control, Head Start, AIDS treatment centers, medical research, food safety, senior housing, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So why are we about to do this? Because of the stupid war-of-choice waged by House Republicans in 2011, when they threatened to send the country into default by not raising the debt ceiling. President Obama struck a deal with Republicans to get the debt ceiling increased, but when the “Supercommittee” created as a result of that deal failed to come to a consensus, the sequester became a reality. No 2011 debt-ceiling fight, no sequester—it’s that simple.

There are plenty of plans out there to defuse the sequester. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, for instance, has proposed a plan to replace it with revenues from closing loopholes that affect the very wealthy and corporations, and pairs it with new investments in job creation. President Obama has offered a shorter-term plan to delay the sequester. Some Senators are also working on a plan. Our own Doug Foote wrote last week about some policy changes that could help close the gap. There are a lot of options.

But, whether we replace it or just stop it entirely, it’s time to be blunt about it: the sequester is bad policy and we shouldn’t let it happen.

The fact is that an obsessive focus on deficit-reducing austerity is a terrible idea right now. We need economic growth more than anything else to improve our budget situation, and the loss of purchasing power that comes from 1 million destroyed jobs will do exactly the opposite. Austerity has repeatedly failed to help economies in the way its proponents claim—just look at the example of the United Kingdom. And as Travis Waldron points out, even without the sequester we are headed towards decades-long lows in federal discretionary spending.

That hasn’t stopped austerity proponents—led by corporate CEOs in a coalition calling itself “Fix the Debt”—from continuing to talk about the issue in “willfully, self-defeatingly false” ways.

Republicans in Congress are trying to have an argument about the size and role of government disguised as an argument purely about budgetary balance. It’s really dishonest, and it’s a way to shield themselves from the incredible unpopularity of the program cuts they want to push.

There’s absolutely no reason to push through massive cuts to programs people depend on right now. There’s no need to subtract a million jobs from our economy and cripple our recovery with a massive hit to Americans’ purchasing power.