What the Sequester Means for Health Care, Education and the Exchanges (In-depth Analysis); Will “Looking Stupid” Motivate Legislators to Compromise? Why the GOP Would Rather Cut Defense than Close Loopholes

Before looking at precisely who will be hurt by of government-wide sequester cuts on health and education, it’s worth considering the possibility—however slim—that legislators still might reach a budget agreement that brings an end to these blind, across-the-board blows to government spending.

Earlier this week Senator Mark Warner told Bloomberg News that he places the odds for a bipartisan debt-reduction deal at better than 50-50.

Why the optimism?  

Warner, who isn’t a political naïf (he served as Virginia’s governor from 2002 to 2006), believes that ultimately law-makers will arrive at a compromise because as he puts it: “looking stupid at some point has got to motivate people.” 

Granted, this is Warner’s first term in the Senate. This could mean that he doesn’t yet understand the ways of Washington. On the other hand, the fact that he’s new to the beltway could mean that he’s still able to think clearly.

As he reminded his Congressional colleagues Wednesday morning: “These cuts were set up to be the stupidest way possible. No rational group of folks would allow them to come to pass.”

Warner is right. NO ONE wanted cuts that Republicans have rightly called “mindless and random.”  That was the point of the Sequester deal forged during a 2011 deficit-reduction agreement. Legislators purposefully chose targets that were so unpopular that everyone assumed that neither party would ever let them occur.  Conservatives wouldn’t countenance slashing military funding by 7.9%, Democrats wouldn’t accept deep cuts to social programs that our most vulnerable citizens need.  They would have to find a compromise. Or, at least, that was the theory.

Instead, Democrats and Republicans deadlocked, and now it seems that they have double-dared themselves into an impossible situation. Sequestration will increase unemployment, weaken the economy, and hurt children, seniors and the military. Even the Border Patrol will take a hit.  More public school teachers will lose their jobs.

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Why We Are Stuck With the Sequester

A month ago, it was clear that voters would blame Republicans if Congress went ahead with the for the so-called “Sequester”—some $85 billion in automatic government-wide spending cuts.

I thought this meant that Republicans would be forced to back down, call off the Sequester, and accept the fact that if we want to reduce the deficit, we’ll need to raise some taxes while also cutting spending.

I was wrong. The sequester took effect March 1 and Republicans aren’t budging.

The public does, in fact, blame the GOP for the budget stalemate that has led to the sequester:  a recent CNN poll shows that shows that only 38 percent say they have a “favorable view ”of the Republican Party, versus 54 percent who view it unfavorably.

                                  Why Republicans Aren’t Worried

Yet House Republicans are not terribly concerned about what voters think. This is because, back in 2010, they succeeded in re-drawing election district lines in many swing states in a way that creates “safe districts” for Republicans—districts where they have a solid majority. They feel untouchable.  At the same time the new boundaries pack as many Democrats as possible into as few districts is possible.

This is a major reason why Democrats didn’t win a  House majority in 2012, even as their congressional candidates drew about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans nationwide, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. And, Bloomberg notes, the redistricting “will hinder the Democrats from regaining control of the chamber in 2014.”

District lines are re-drawn once a decade, right after the U.S. census is taken. The last census took place in 2010, and that year Democrats saw massive losses at the polls. As a result, the GOP controlled state government in key states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. This gave Republicans the power to draw congressional district lines. They seized that chance, aggressively “gerrymandering” so as to protect Republican incumbents while isolating Democrats. The fact Democrats are concentrated in urban areas made their task easier. Nevertheless, creative cartography led to some crazy designs. For instance, Bloomberg points out, “Michigan’s 14th congressional district looks like a jagged letter ’S’ lying on its side.”

 

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