Does the Critical Sequestration Question Have An Answer?

What does sequestration mean? The White House told Congress on Friday that the government spending cuts, scheduled to take effect on March 1, would mean 1,000 fewer FBI officers, mass layoffs of government meat and food inspectors, and huge cuts to federal aid programs aimed at helping hundreds of thousands of low-income women and children. The White House also warned that the spending cuts would have harsh consequences for ordinary Americans.

Sequestration, in its legal sense, simply means automatic spending cuts. But given the recent turmoil surrounding the fiscal cliff, the term has taken on epic proportions. It is a “blunt and indiscriminate instrument that poses a serious threat to our national security, domestic priorities, and the economy,” Danny Werfel, a senior official at the White House budget office, told reporters from Reuters. “It does not represent a responsible way to achieve deficit reduction,” he said.

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The United States avoided falling over the fiscal cliff, the combination of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that were scheduled for January 1, through a last-minute compromise. The deal included a provision that delayed the “sequester,” which was the spending cut element of the cliff, for two months, giving Congress additional time to solve the problem. But as before, Republicans and Democrats are having problems coming to an agreement…

If Republicans and Democrats in Congress can agree on a plan that would raise revenues and cut spending, the sequester would be replaced with an “acceptable fiscal belt-tightening program,” White House economic aide Jason Furman told Reuters. “What we’re trying to do now is make sure Congress can buy the time it needs in order to do this entitlement reform, tax reform, that’s a much better solution to our problems than letting the sequester hit,” Furman said.

President Obama’s administration repeated its often-made plea to Congress to put off the planned reductions, which would result in 9 percent cuts in non-defense programs and 13 percent cuts in defense programs in this current fiscal year.

But the Republicans have said it is up to the president to propose cuts. “Spending is still the problem,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner…

For Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, cutting government spending is still the most important priority, while Democratic senators are discussing a plan that could delay the sequester a further 10 months. This plan contains proposals similar to the ones Democrats have proposed before: half the sequester would be paid for by new revenue and half by spending cuts, according to what a Democratic Senate aide told Reuters on Thursday.

These arguments are the legacy of the 2011 budget battle between Obama and congressional Republicans, when the nation came close to defaulting on its debt. The only way the two sides could reach a compromise to raise the debt ceiling was to set up a deadline for automatic spending cuts that would act as an incentive of sorts. This unending fiscal skirmish has continued for months and contributed to the lasting weakness in the U.S. economy.

The financial uncertainty has greatly affected businesses that operate in the United States, as they are unsure of whether they should expect higher taxes or government spending cuts.

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