Sequestration grew out of a political impasse: Republicans refused to raise the government’s borrowing limit in 2011 without starting to bring spending under control, but Democrats refused to make choices about where to cut spending.
So the president devised sequestration, on the theory that cutting spending in such a painful and dumb way would force Republicans to raise taxes. Spending on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare was mostly spared, but other programs, particularly defense, got across-the-board cuts.
As a result, thousands of federal workers, including border security and FBI agents, are being told to expect unpaid furloughs in the coming weeks and months. And that is only the beginning. If there is one thing Democrats and Republicans in Washington can now agree on, it is this: The sequester must be replaced.
Congress has taken bipartisan action to fix small pieces of it. To avert flight delays, we transferred Federal Aviation Administration funds to keep air-traffic controllers working and flight towers open. When the Food Safety and Inspection Service announced it was planning to furlough essential employees required to be on-site for meatpacking and other food production businesses to operate, I led the effort on the Senate floor to keep those critical personnel working.
These examples highlight the sequester’s arbitrary and destructive effects, but they also demonstrate Congress’s ability to come up with common-sense solutions. The question is whether Congress will show the same resolve to legislate a smarter approach to budgeting in general.