Sequestration. A word that has invaded the vocabularies of even those who make a concerted effort to ignore politics.
When the recession hit, states and localities were forced to sequester their budgets. Thursday, before the March 1 deadline, Congress will be forced to confront its own staggering federal fiscal situation.
Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, outlined the immediate effects.
“If indeed sequestration plays out, the civilian workers on military bases in Georgia may be furloughed and lose 10 percent or more of their salaries,” he said. “Furthermore, if federal employees are being furloughed, it could have an effect where even people who are secure in their jobs become more nervous.”
And nervousness — whether warranted or not — affects consumer confidence, a key economic indicator.
“Somebody who is worried about the security of their own position, maybe that person decides they won’t buy a new car, they won’t buy a new fridge,” Bullock said.
With so much at stake for the economy, political parties have been quick to point fingers.
“The parties are basically playing chicken right now to see which one blinks first,” Bullock said.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, had strong words for an “embarrassing” situation.
“As someone who ran a company for 22 years, I’m embarrassed about the way we are running the country right now,” he said. “Sequestration is a bad idea. We ought to be appropriating, we ought to be budgeting and we ought to make decisions on a cost-benefit analysis. These continual deadlines and cliffs are no way to run a country.”
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, agreed with his colleague.
“While there is widespread agreement that the government needs to cut spending, the cuts should be done in a logical and judicious manner,” he said.
In the U.S. House, 9th District Rep. Doug Collins sang a slightly different tune.
“I believe our country needs to restore its fiscal house to order, and the best way to accomplish that goal is through real spending cuts that will significantly reduce our debt. The president, once an advocate of sequestration, has recently become a strong opponent of the initiative he first proposed,” he said. “Instead of discussing other options for spending cuts that House Republicans voted on and passed during the last Congress, President Obama continues to unfairly pass the blame onto others.”
Polls are reflecting the public’s widespread negative views of Congress, but the job security of representatives themselves isn’t necessarily at stake, Bullock said.
“People blame Congress, but they don’t tend to blame their local representative,” Bullock said. “Most voters make a clear distinction between Congress as an institution, but think their local representative is doing a good job representing their public interest. You know, this is someone they may have met, someone they may go to church with.”
But is all the fuss about ineffectual, immature party politics the nature of the game, or a new phenomenon? After all, the framers designed Congress to move slow. Yes and no, Bullock said.
“Congress is not designed for quick action, that is absolutely true. There are many opportunities to thwart processes,” Bullock said. “But historically, members have been willing to work together, even across the aisles — bipartisanship. Now the whole idea of bipartisanship is defined by suspicion by both people on the left and right.”
In an unprecedented move, the Senate flexed the now often-used filibuster to block Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense. That tactic can’t come in to play with the sequestration debate, Bullock noted.
“The Senate cannot filibuster the budget, by congressional rule. You can filibuster in the Senate virtually anything else, but not this,” he said.
It’s been a while since sequestration was on the table.
“There have been other times when it was threatened, but ultimately, it’s never happened. The last time it reached so close a deadline was the 1980s,” Bullock said.
Isakson’s outlook wasn’t hopeful on reaching a deal.
“Unfortunately, I think that sequestration is going to happen, and it is going to happen because the president has failed to lead on this issue. I hope that the president will lead and demonstrate the places where we can make meaningful cuts, the places where we can find savings and the places that we can have greater efficiency. He’s the president, he needs to lead,” he said.