The Sequester Is Genuinely Bad, and Totally Optional

A week from today, the dreaded sequester kicks in. A great new report from the Center for American Progress details what we’re in for over the rest of this year: 70,000 kids kicked off of Head Start, 2,100 fewer food safety inspectors, delays in air travel, federal workers furloughed for days without pay.

A look at the front pages of community newspapers shows that people are starting to pay attention to the mess we’re about to walk into. It’s going to be really, really bad for the economy, hurting growth and undermining jobs. And here’s the cruelest fact of all: it’s silly that we’re here in the first place, and it’s totally avoidable.

The reason we have a sequester at all is because it was part of a deal to assuage House Republicans who refused to raise the debt ceiling in 2011. Republican pundits are trying to wriggle away from this fact, but most House and Senate Republicans voted for the bill that created the sequester. They pointed to it at the time as the “concession” they got in “exchange” for not forcing the country into default.

Congress could, tomorrow, pass a bill into law canceling sequestration cuts. There are plenty of proposals out there to replace them with different spending cuts and more revenues, but at the end of the day, there’s no distinct need to replace them at all. The economy shouldn’t have to absorb a huge blast of austerity. The deficit is already falling, due in part to economic growth; deliberate damage to economic growth is counter-productive. Indeed, the negative economic effects of the sequester might mean that it won’t even achieve its supposed purpose of reducing the deficit.

So let’s take the advice of folks like Paul Waldman and Alex Seitz-Wald, who identify the same simple solution I suggested earlier this month: Congress should pass a bill that reverses the sequester and President Obama should sign it.