Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Sequester Madness Is Bad Policy, Bad Politics

The sequester cuts are so unpopular that repealing them has become a Republican presidential campaign issue even though the law that set them in motion - the Budget Control Act - was adopted with substantial GOP support in both chambers.

Few Members of Congress want the sequester to happen. But it's hard to find one who will talk positively about the higher deficit that will result if the cuts don't happen because that would be the budget equivalent of Lord Voldemort from the "Harry Potter" books: something that dare not be spoken. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke coined the phrase "fiscal cliff" so he could avoid saying out loud what he really meant - that the deficit needs to be higher next year than will occur if the sequester and the rest of the fiscal cliff policies go into effect.

The political silliness reached a low point last week when the White House was criticized for missing the deadline for releasing a report to Congress that explains which programs will be cut by how much if the sequester that so few really want occurs. Not only was Congress not in session on the official date the report was due, the report will provide details on an event that won't take place for almost four months. In other words, the delay of a few days means nothing.

Put all this craziness together and you realize just how mad this situation really is. No one wants the sequester to happen, but the alternative - a higher deficit - is not politically acceptable. Everyone would like someone else to get blamed for the cuts that will occur if the sequester happens, but they still want to get credit for reducing federal spending.

The sequester is a campaign issue in an election that presumably will be decided almost two months before it's scheduled to happen. And the negative effects of the spending cuts are disputed by few, even while some on the Hill continue to insist that the federal budget can be cut without harming the economy.

In other words, the January sequester is neither good economic policy nor good politics. That's practically the prototypical definition of fiscal madness.

Stan Collender is a partner at Qorvis Communications and founder of the blog Capital Gains and Games. He is also the author of "The Guide to the Federal Budget."

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