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6 degrees of sequestration

Budget deal doesn’t solve one big thing: The sequester

David Gura Dec 12, 2013
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While there is a lot that is not in the House-approved budget deal crafted by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), it does take most of the sting out of “the sequester” — the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts aimed at trimming the deficit. The second round of those is supposed to kick in next month.

Sequestration came to life on March 1, with cuts to the tune of $85 billion dollars. According to Bruce Cain, a political science professor at Stanford University, it was designed to be unappealing to lawmakers in both parties.

“The idea was that it would be so unpalatable that eventually they would come to the table,” he says.

But that took a while. Some programs were exempt, and Congress passed exceptions for air traffic controllers and FBI agents. So, for many Americans, that first round of cuts seemed abstract, Cain says.

“It didn’t ripple out to the public in the same way that, say, cuts at the local government level and the state level do,” he says.

Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, wonders if we will see more sequesters in the future, because politicians might now see it as a viable way to reduce spending. 

The fear of more cuts next year is what finally got negotiators to compromise. But according to Alice Rivlin, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, it is too soon to do a postmortem.

“The sequester is not dead,” she says, noting Ryan and Murray’s deal is just a partial replacement for only two of the sequester’s remaining eight years.

“This sequester is still moving,” says Paul Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University. “It’s still alive. This is going to come up over and over again.”

By law — until Fiscal Year 2021.

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