As Maine’s senators work furiously both publicly and behind the scenes to avoid the ridiculous cuts resulting from Friday’s impending sequestration deadline, we wonder what happened to leadership. Both Democratic and Republican leaders appear willing to let the $85 billion in irrational cuts — to defense, border security, special education, the FBI, Head Start and NASA — take effect or deal with them at a later time, even though they have known about them since 2011 and even helped orchestrate their existence.
But President Barack Obama has known for a long time, too, that sequestration was imminent. In fact, the White House helped initiate it, according to The Washington Post. He also has known that the leaders of the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate would be unlikely, through their partisan lenses, to shape a bipartisan plan on their own. He has good ideas about how best to avoid the cuts and protect an economy that is just starting to mend, but he has failed to bring people together to find a solution.
Why didn’t he convene a meeting of the senior members of the House and Senate, of both parties, so they could work together until they reached an agreement? If individual representatives and senators cannot convince House Speaker John Boehner, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to find a way to reform the tax code and make responsible, long-lasting cuts that address major cost drivers, such as entitlements, it’s in the president’s best interests to do so.
It would be unproductive for Congress to vote on partisan plans to avoid the sequester that are known will fail. And it would be a dereliction of duty to put off major decisions until next month when Congress will deal with another deadline: The Continuing Resolution that funds federal government discretionary operations runs out March 27. As Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins said in a Feb. 14 appropriations committee hearing, “If we’re just going to have across-the-board cuts, what is the point of our being here?” House and Senate leaders have the authority and duty to lead on the issue, but they have failed. So has the president.
Some senators are working with members across the aisle. Collins and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., summed up the path forward in a Feb. 1 letter sent to Reid and McConnell, saying, “The best way to avoid sequestration is to stop avoiding the choices we have to make and get our long-term debt and deficits under control. This will require reforms to all areas of spending, including domestic, mandatory, and defense, as well as comprehensive tax reform.” Collins and independent Maine Sen. Angus King called for the same approach in a Feb. 20 letter to the president in which they highlighted the effect of sequestration on national security and jobs at Bath Iron Works and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud alsohave urged their House leaders to put forward legislation.
Many Republicans in Congress have been absolutely unreasonable and largely unable to see beyond cuts to discretionary spending — when it is mandatory spending that continues to grow, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But, though we recognize the difficulty, we also are disappointed that the president has failed to find a way to bring the competing sides together. Collins and King called for the president to convene a meeting with congressional leaders. He should have heeded their advice.