Upon reading news on the sequester, you might not know whether to laugh or cry. There have been so many predictions, so much name-calling and finger pointing. I am not sure who to believe.
Two items stood out to me in a CBS News article on the sequester. First, according to the article, “Most entitlement programs are exempt.” The article goes on to say, “During the negotiations that produced the sequester, Democrats successfully pushed to exempt most forms of politically sensitive entitlement spending from the automatic cuts. As a result, Social Security, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, unemployment insurance, and food stamps will not see any reduction in funding. Medicare beneficiaries were also spared the axe, while Medicare providers will see only a 2 percent reduction in payments. Mr. Obama’s healthcare bill, some recall, also opted to slash payments to Medicare providers in lieu of targeting beneficiaries.” If correct, you might find this news to be a sign of relief, especially if you are one of the beneficiaries of these various programs.
Second, the article raises the question: does the sequester, as problematic as across the board cuts is, provide “an opportunity to target wasteful spending?” As stated in the article, some Republicans are grateful that, while problematic, the sequester “has begun a conversation” on what they take to be wasteful spending. Still, why couldn’t our federal government have engaged in constructive conversation earlier on what is wasteful as well as necessary spending and avoided the sequester in the first place?
It’s hard not to laugh and cry at the same time, when observing how our government is handling this crisis. It gets even worse, when you find that our nation’s leaders don’t necessarily know what to make of the sequester. According to NBC News, House speaker John Boehner has claimed that he doesn’t believe anyone quite knows how to resolve the sequester, if it’s going to hurt the economy, or how it will work.
Given that many people don’t know whether to laugh or cry over the sequester, is it any wonder that Saturday Night Live has gotten involved in the act? According to a Saturday Night Live skit, Mrs. Obama will only do four television appearances a week from now on (down from seventy-five); air traffic control and border control will be severely impacted in comic if not cosmic proportions; astronauts will no longer have glass shields in their space helmets; three monkeys will be fired from the national zoo in Washington, D. C. and let loose on the streets of the nation’s capitol where they will wreak havoc; the list goes on.
Comic relief may be in order. But there is no time for finger pointing and hand-wringing. Whatever direction the conversation takes, the Democrats and Republicans will need to resolve their internal conflicts and work together to move us out of this mess. Inaction never leads to good governance. For our part, we will all need to learn to work harder together as citizens. The worst thing that can happen is for us to sequester ourselves from our nation’s problems and look out only for ourselves or our kind of people. We will need to make sure that whichever direction the conversation takes, we will advocate for those most disadvantaged; for example, cuts in public education will likely affect the most vulnerable student populations the most. Though the sequester will likely impact public education broadly, those who are more well to do can adjust more readily and provide other educational opportunities for their children. The poor seldom if ever have lobbyists in large part because they lack the necessary resources. How equitable is that in a democracy?
There is nothing funny about a country, whose more well-to-do citizens care only for themselves and who leave the most vulnerable to fend for themselves. Not only is there nothing funny about such inaction and indifference, but also there is nothing smart about it either: if we want to reduce poverty and build the economy (which everyone should affirm), we need to invest in the poor to benefit them and also so that they can help build our economy and help heal our nation.