Bob Franken

The Festering Sequestering

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It really happened. This time, the D.C. drama kings and queens couldn’t or wouldn’t come up with a reprieve. With all the hype over the indiscriminate budget cuts, I had been imagining a giant wave of disgust, with March 1 headlines from around the world screaming “Sequestration Happens! Pope Quits!”
Like everyone else, I’ve been wondering what the real story is about Benedict XVI’s resignation. After all, the Vatican has even more backstabbing intrigue than Washington. Here, we’re dealing with relatively mundane across-the-board cuts in the federal government, split evenly between defense and domestic programs. Actually, they’re only sort of across-the-board, because entire expenditures were left untouched, like troop support and Social Security. There’s a whole raft of exceptions that are considered by someone to be too vital.
Still, this is a sledgehammer approach. To avert a previous fiscal crisis, back in June 2011, the White House suggested and congressional Republicans quickly approved this little face-saving gem. It was supposed to be so drastic and foolish that the partisan combatants would have no choice but to come to their senses by the deadline and seriously address the nation’s spiraling debt. But that placed far too much confidence in the fundamental sanity of the zealots who feel they have a mandate to blast the government to smithereens. It was inevitable, and this time, the bounce from one temporary fix to another slammed into reality, even as everyone prepares for another fight to the death. Their next confrontation in a few weeks could shut down most of the bureaucracy. Call it the Roseanne Roseannadanna Effect.
Those of us past puberty remember Roseanne Roseannadanna. She was the ditzy news analyst on “Saturday Night Live’s” “Weekend Update,” brilliantly played by the late Gilda Radner, who would wrap up her commentary with, “It’s always something.” It was parody. Sad to say, these days the clumsy parody is what we’re witnessing in the nation’s capital.

By now, most of us simply don’t care. The polls bear that out. There’s an explanation for that: We’re sane. Seriously. If you accept Einstein’s quote that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” or in this case, watching the same thing, then it is crazy to believe that our leaders suddenly would become rational. So, of course, “It’s always something.”
Actually, Senate Democrats just rejected an idea from the GOP that deserves further discussion. The proposal would have Congress passing legislation maintaining the amount of the sequester budget cuts but attempting to bring order to the chaos by giving the administration the power to decide which programs would be funded and which would be scaled back or even eliminated.
What’s appealing about the idea is that people on both sides hate it. At the White House, they realize that suddenly it would be the president who would get the blame for all the slash and burn. From a political point of view, that makes the Republican proposition diabolically clever. Among many conscientious members of Congress, though, there is a big worry that ceding the executive branch so much authority would do lasting damage to the Constitution’s balance of power that has served us well. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been serving us so well lately, and maybe, so the argument goes, this would allow the chief executive to run his agencies without the constant meddling of all those Capitol Hill busybodies. While we’re pondering that, perhaps there should be a conversation about how senators from both parties abuse “advise and consent.”
What’s really insidious about this sequestration is that its impact isn’t going to be felt right away. No matter how many dire warnings from the president and his cabinet, people tune out. Threats that air travel will be an ungodly hassle? So what’s new? But that’s not the real point. The people of America seem to be embracing a new motto: “Expect nothing, and you won’t be disappointed.”

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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