My VIEW: Bill Frenzel

We've talked a great deal about how sequestration is bad policy, but that the worst outcome would be to cancel the sequester without offsets. In the Fix the Debt Campaign's new sequester deal scoring system, that is the option that would receive their "F" grade. In a recent article at Forbes, CRFB board member and former Representative Bill Frenzel (R-MN) explains why lawmakers should not kick the can down the road, despite the sequester's drawbacks.

Frenzel agrees that the sequester is a less than ideal way to reduce the deficit: it doesn't address the drivers of the federal debt and doesn't distinguish between good cuts and bad cuts. But it does have value as a way to bring both parties to the table. Frenzel explains:

The worst feature of the sequester is that it is the wrong way to reduce spending. The cuts are mandated across-the-board in most discretionary spending areas. The good programs will be cut along with the bad. The most hard-hit casualty will be the Defense Department (DOD). It can stand cuts, but they need to be carefully selected. The sequester does not select. The sequester meat-axe slices muscle along with the fat.

It is hard to believe that allegedly smart people could have agreed to such a device. The President and the leaders of both houses signed off on the sequester in the belief that because it was so bad it would force them into a compromise deficit/debt reduction plan despite their philosophic disagreements.

As it seems to be turning out, our representatives’ philosophic disagreements are more precious to them than the health of the nation’s economy. Republicans want to protect tax rates and Democrats want to protect entitlement programs. They would prefer the sequester, admittedly smaller than the tax cliff, to any form of compromise.

The moment of truth is only a week away. Most odds-makers believe the Sequester will actually occur. However, the policymakers do have other choices: (1) they could postpone it, in hopes of making a later deal (2); they could trash the sequester, and sacrifice long-term growth for another short-term fling; (3) they could give the Executive Departments leeway to make the cuts where best tolerated; or (4) they could live with the sequester for a few weeks or months, and then holler “uncle” and opt for (1) , (2), or (3) above.

But Frenzel argues that despite sequestration's limitations, it will force lawmakers to do something about our unsustainable debt problem. Lawmakers have a clear incentive to replace the sequester with smart deficit reduction, but should they fail to compromise, it's better than nothing. Frenzel writes:

This writer believes that the sequester will happen. However, when airport security lines triple, the national parks open later and close earlier, and our military tours abroad are extended, there is a good chance that Congress will begin to rethink the problem, particularly with respect to DOD. If so, at that point, it is critical that Congress replace a dumb cut with a smart cut of equal value, rather than deferring or repealing the sequester.

Our debt is already high. CBO sees it going higher rather than stabilizing under the most likely budget scenarios over the next 10 years. The President’s budget drives the debt ratio up around 80% in 10 years. That’s one reason why cancelation, or deferral, of the sequester would be unwise. Over 10 years, the sequester would save well over $1 trillion. Another reason is that it makes no sense to swap short-term faster growth for long-term reduced growth.

If no comprehensive compromise (one with total 10-year reductions of Bowles-Simpson proportions) is in sight, it is better to accept the stupid cuts of the sequester than to postpone deficit/debt reduction plans again. The best plan would be smart cuts. The sequester is a distant second choice, but, clearly, it is better than nothing.

The full blog post can be found here.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.

Tags