Jumping Through Hoops to Avoid the Sequester

Yesterday, in POLITICO David Rogers had an article about an effort in the House to temporarily delay the sequester scheduled to hit at year's end. As a reminder, this sequester was originally put in place in order to force the Super Committee to identify $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. Due to the Super Committee's failure, the sequester is now scheduled to go off on January 1, 2013.

Policymakers will need to find a way to turn off the sequester, preferably replacing it with a comprehensive fiscal plan to put the debt on a downward path over the medium term and significantly improve the long-term fiscal picture. According to Rogers, many in the House are instead looking to enact and pay for a one-year delay of the sequester. As he explains:

At this stage, the goal is not to match the full $1.2 trillion in 10-year savings ordered by the Budget Control Act last summer. Instead, the primary focus is on the first round in 2013, half of which — about $54.7 billion — would come from national defense spending.

Currently, bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate to repeal the sequester--both its defense and non-defense portions--for a year, paid for by reducing the federal workforce by ten percent.

Rogers also discusses the possibility of using the reconciliation process to the bill through the House. They could use the process to get the bill passed in the House, leaving the Senate with the pressure to take up the bill. However, there are complaints from both sides about this plan, with conservatives disliking paying for a year of costs with ten years of offsets and many Democrats dislike the specific offset and the idea of shifting cuts away from defense and towards domestic spending.

Politics aside, allowing the sequester to go into effect is clearly bad policy. Rather than enacting smart and targeted reforms focused on low-priority spending and the drivers of future debt, the sequester calls for a sharp and indiscriminate cut.

The only thing worse than letting the sequester hit, though, would be repealing it without putting the debt on a stronger path. Paying for a one-year delay would certainly be better than not paying for it, but it misses the point of the sequester -- to force action on a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan. We've written before about the importance of the sequester in helping policymakers to achieve this goal, and the irresponsibility of weakening it without putting a plan in place. Instead of jumping through political hoops to find a temporary fix, policymakers should focus on a permanent one.