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Editorial: Another frustrating fiscal crisis looms

10:46 PM, Feb. 20, 2013  |  Comments
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Two months after avoiding going over the fiscal cliff, the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration are again at a fiscal crossroads, this time it's sequestration.

Sequestration refers to the automatic reductions in spending that are set to take place without a deficit reduction plan. The cuts would affect defense and social programs to the tune of $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.

In the fiscal cliff deal reached at the end of 2012, Congress delayed the sequester by two months. Those two months end Feb. 28, and the automatic cuts begin March 1.

That would mean $85 billion in across-the-board reductions in federal spending for this fiscal year, though Medicare and Social Security would not be affected.

The U.S. Army, for example, has said it would have to furlough 250,000 civilian workers and lay off 5,000, according to a USA Today report, and hundreds of thousands of federal employees would face furlough; there would be 1,000 fewer FBI agents and fewer food safety inspectors.

In 2011, Congress approved the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts if it failed to reach a deficit reduction deal. The thought was that these cuts were too severe for both sides of the aisle not to work together to avoid them.

Guess what? No measure is too severe that it would force Democrats and Republicans to work together.

Much like druing the fiscal cliff negotiation, one gets the sense that in order to achieve any deficit reduction, some are willing to send the country over the cliff. That way the lawmakers would not have to make the tough decisions, the tough negotiations and the tough concessions needed to keep the United States on sound financial footing.

Many want to avoid the consequences of inaction, but none can agree on a solution.

There's plenty of blame to go around, if one wanted to get into who's right and who's wrong. The Republicans made a big issue of the routine debt ceiling increase that the government has needed in the past to pay its bills, prompting the fiscal crisis. The Democratically controlled White House came up with the idea of the sequester and gambled that it would scare off dissenters.

The gamble didn't work. That leaves federal programs and workers at the mercy of a divided Congress.

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for action, "And let's do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors. The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next."

We agree. Both sides need to compromise. Both sides need to work together. To do otherwise would be a disservice to those affected by these cuts, either directly or indirectly. Congress is scheduled to be on recess next week, so it won't take up any more measures until Feb. 25, just days away from the March 1 deadline.

Unfortunately, the sequester won't be the end of the self-perpetuating fiscal crises in Congress. Lawmakers extended the current borrowing limit of $16.4 trillion to May 18. You can be reasonably assured that we'll be looking at last-minute deals then.

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