Drama-filled budget battles between Capitol Hill and the White House protracted on March 1 with the sequester, a set of deep, automatic budget cuts with the intent of motivating both parties to reach an agreement.
But no compromise resulted.
In the summer of 2011, Congress and the president were embroiled in fervent debate on hoisting the nation’s debt ceiling. To put an end to the cross-town rivalry, the president reached an agreement with Congress and the Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed.
The agreement was a compromise for both parties, because originally the two branches of government were given a requirement to reach a deal before 2013 began, but extended the deadline to March 1 in the final days of 2012. Last Friday, the deadline for a solution came and went with no deal.
As a result, $1.2 trillion in budget-trimming over the next 10 years will be equally divided between defense spending and discretionary spending. All government programs are up for similar cuts except for exempted entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Social Security.
In the aftermath of the disagreements, the embittered sides, playing the “name-blame-game,” called on the other as the cause of the gridlock that led to Friday’s sequester law authentication by President Obama.
“I want their party, the Republican party, to be known as the party who only cares about the millionaires and billionaires and multinational corporations. And they’ve proven through their pledge,” said Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), a recent signer of the Takano-Grayson letter against future cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefits.
However, some conservatives deem the course Medicaid funding is unsustainable.
Republican members of Congress have been pushing for scaled back entitlement programs because of the expenses without tangible cash to pay for it.
Patrick Louis Knudsen, a Grover M. Hermann senior fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., said Democrats are unwilling to accept the fact that Medicaid is en-route to an “accelerated collapse” if it continues to be funded the way it is.
“The democratic party has always been supportive of the existing, government run Medicare and Medicaid programs,” said Knudsen. “The easiest way to destroy Medicare right now is to just leave it alone. It’ll just collapse under its own financial weight.”
Republicans, who have classically resisted spending, have accomplished dramatic reductions up to $85 billion alone this year through the sequester, although not in the best way, according Knudsen.
“The spending cuts that are coming into play would be relatively consistent with the Republican agenda anyway,” he said. “So far, they have been willing to stand their ground on this issue and say ‘You got your tax increases, now it’s time to do spending cuts.’”
President Obama, in equal disbelief Washington policymakers could not agree on a settlement, said the West Wing is not responsible for the sequester because Republicans refused to compromise on taxing the top earners in the country.
He said in a press conference the negotiations could have been approached in a “balanced way,” citing an implied responsibility to lower the deficit without laying off workers or axing financial aid for college students.
“They’ve allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit,” Obama said.
As recently as yesterday, they decided to protect special interest tax breaks for the well-off and well-connected, and they think that is apparently more important than protecting our military or middle-class families from the pain of these cuts.
In the days leading up to the sequester deadline, a bitter debate was sparked about who was truly at fault for the drastic cuts.
The president repeatedly denied the automatic reductions were at his hands, but journalist and recently anointed GOP champion Bob Woodward revealed the Executive Branch’s role in initiating the sequester in a lengthy editorial published late February.
“The sequester was something that was discussed … and as has been reported, it was an idea that the White House put forward,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, admitting fault after a lengthy fight over who caused the sequester, in a statement.
Woodward also disclosed emails and conversations he had with top White House aides who he said yelled at him and sent him angry emails in response to his allegations.
“They acknowledged the idea came from the White House,” Woodward told Politico reporters in an interview. “They are putting out things … to somehow refute the idea of what I wrote that they ‘changed the goalposts.’”
In coming months, nearly every government program will feel the pain of budget reductions.
Many government employees will be furloughed from national parks to government offices as Congress continues to bicker over further changes in spending.
Knudsen said the way Congress been handling it over the past several years has been very “piecemeal and ad hoc” as the country seems to have a budget crisis every couple of months.
Another debt ceiling debate is on the horizon and Congress will be forced back into the arena in order to avoid another government shutdown in a replay of the debate that wracked the Capitol two years ago.