Minnesota lawmakers try to make sense of sequesterby Brett Neely, Minnesota Public Radio
WASHINGTON — These cuts were never meant to happen.
Let's go back in time to 2011.There was a nasty brawl between the White House and congressional Republicans over raising the government's borrowing limit.
As a way out of the crisis, Congress came up with two approaches to cut the budget deficit.
Plan A was a special committee of lawmakers -- the "super committee" -- with extraordinary powers to craft a big deficit reduction deal. Plan B, sequestration, was meant to be so harmful that Congress would be forced to act.
In some ways, the sequester was like the atomic doomsday machine from the 1964 movie, "Dr. Strangelove."
As they do today, Democrats wanted to see higher taxes coupled with spending cuts, Republicans wanted only cuts. The super-committee failed Now, 19 months later, no one can defuse the doomsday machine's countdown clock.
"Here we are and it's going to happen," said Collin Peterson, a Democrat who represents the District 7. Peterson voted for the legislation that created the sequester. He would prefer the cuts were replaced by some combination of tax hikes and spending cuts.
But unlike most of his colleagues, Peterson's not worried about the immediate impact of the cuts.
"I don't think it's going to be anywhere near what people are talking about," he said.
However, the across-the-board nature of the cuts is bad enough that Republicans don't like them either.
Rep. John Kline, who represents District 2 covering the southern Twin Cities suburbs, voted for the sequester.
"All of us, I think on both sides of the aisle, agree that the way the cuts are taken is not good," Kline said.
Even the delegation's most fiscally conservative member, Rep. Michele Bachmann, is concerned.
While Bachmann has backed extremely deep spending cuts in the past she voted against the sequester in 2011. But Bachmann said the Federal Aviation Administration's announcement that it could close air traffic control operations at the St. Cloud airport in her district could harm plans to launch regular flights from there to Chicago.
"This isn't fatal to bringing in a new commercial aircraft to the St. Cloud area, but it's not helpful," Bachmann said.
Despite complaints about the sequester's impact, the Republican-controlled House has made no effort in this Congress to undo the cuts. House Republicans can be heard saying they passed two bills to stop the cuts, or as Bachmann puts it, "Because again, we've already done our work."
But that legislation is from last year. It expired in January when the new Congress was sworn in. Instead, the House spent much of January and February debating minor bills.
Republicans, including Kline, blame the Senate for a lack of action.
"It is pointless for the House to keep stepping up and passing our alternatives," Kline said. "What are we supposed to do? Just pass a new one every week until it's like a roulette game and a ball lands on the one they like? No, that's not the way to pass legislation."
But a Democratic bill in the Senate that would replace this year's sequester with a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes was blocked by a Republican filibuster on Thursday.
President Barack Obama has offered cuts to Social Security and Medicare if Republicans will agree to close tax loopholes.
No deal, says District 3 Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen, who voted for the sequester. He says the GOP doesn't trust Obama.
"Well, from my understanding, many of these things have been mentioned in speeches, for instance. But then when the leaders have gotten together with the president -- then he pulls back and withdraws those offers," Paulsen said.
The Republican position leaves District 1 Democratic Rep. Tim Walz scratching his head.
Walz voted for the 2011 agreement creating the sequester and said the GOP seems to have decided to let the sequester happen rather than negotiate cuts of the same size that could target ineffective programs and waste.
"My Republican colleagues are saying we need to cut the government but they're telling the president, you do it," Walz said.
Members from both sides of the aisle say the real work on undoing the sequester begins next week, when the House begins work on a bill to keep the government running through September.
They all believe that measure could be the vehicle for some kind of compromise, but compromise is in short supply on Capitol Hill these days.
- Morning Edition, 03/01/2013, 7:20 a.m.