Clock ticking for sequester

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The sequester debate between Republicans and Democrats may be raging hundreds of miles away, but failure to reach an agreement by Friday’s deadline would deliver local consequences.
Federal funds flowing into everything from the Social Security Office on Jake Alexander Boulevard to your neighborhood schools would decrease if $85 billion in mandatory, across-the-board budget cuts go into effect March 1. People who rely on veterans benefits, Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps and the Children’s Health Insurance Program need not worry; those programs are exempt from the automatic cuts. But the agencies that handle them will see belt-tightening measures, and payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients could decrease.
Meanwhile, across the state, furlough notices are going out to 22,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense.
Those are just some of the disturbing effects President Obama has been warning the nation about — scare tactics, Republicans say. Federal employees are duly alarmed, but the general public is fairly calm. Another fiscal crisis in Washington? (Yawn.) Wake us when it’s over.
Yes, the federal government has a spending problem. The government’s deficit spending and mounting debt pose a huge threat to our nation as a whole. But the public has grown jaded to these funding crises over spending cuts and closing loopholes. The stalemate between Obama and congressional Republicans shows no sign of ending. Ever. Politicians in Washington may posture and bicker to the point they cast a cloud over the economy, but they always find a way to keep disaster from raining down.
Sen. Kay Hagan, D-NC, doesn’t like the stalling. “One of the things I’ve noticed my last four years in the U.S. Senate is when a deadline hits we do tend, in many cases, to take action,” she said. “Personally that is not my way to govern. I think we need a much longer term approach.”
Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, sees more plotting than procrastination. “Sequestration was the president’s plan all along,” Burr told one North Carolina TV station. “ He intends to see it go through. He and his cabinet have sole discretion at determining which programs get cut and by how much ….” Any negatives coming out of this rest on Obama’s shoulders, he said.
No one wins when dysfunction is standard operating procedure in the nation’s capitol. Tough budget decisions require deliberation and care — and a willingness to compromise. Arbitrary, automatic budget cuts are poor substitutes for responsible leadership.