, ,

An Open Letter to The Sequester

Dear Sequester,

I’ve been doing my best to ignore you for weeks now because you fall into the “i can’t control any of this” category, so focusing on my job is just much more productive.

But today I read an insightful Yahoo news article on sequestration that really helped me understand you a lot better. I see that like many of the government entities involved in wrestling you into something agreeable, you are one complicated beast.

The part I liked the most from said yahoo article was the ‘How can it get fixed?’ part, which gave 3 options, which I’ll paste here:



President Obama and his GOP counterparts, distant as they are on matters of fiscal policy, have a few remaining options to keep the sequester from wreaking its oft-alleged, oft-doubted chaos:

  • 1. A grand deficit deal. This probably will not happen. The sequester originally sucked $1.2 trillion out of projected federal appropriations over the next 10 years, and an equivalent measure of deficit savings — it could be tax revenue, it could be spending cuts, or it could be a combination — is what’s needed to eliminate the sequester over the long haul.

    Given how little sides have been talking over the last few weeks, it’s almost completely impossible that such a grand deal will get struck before 11:59 p.m. on Friday, when Obama will be legally required to order the sequester into effect.

  • 2. Give agencies more authority. As Republicans and journalists have astutely noted, the cuts aren’t all that big, depending on how you count them. They’re less than 2.5 percent of all government spending—although what those critics don’t mention is that the cuts are concentrated in discretionary accounts, hence the nine and 13 percent reductions in nondefense and defense spending.

So why not give federal agencies broader authority to rearrange their money and shrink overall spending while maintaining the most vital programs and services? If the Justice Department can save money by means other than furloughing FBI agents, why not let it?

Republicans have reportedly fought over this, and President Obama has resisted the idea of leaving the sequester in place, even with more leeway to make the cuts less painful.

Giving agencies more flexibility poses two problems. First, it fundamentally changes the sequester by making it more palatable. When Congress and Obama agreed on it in 2011, the sequester was designed as a punishment for failing to reach a broadly acceptable deficit deal. If the cuts aren’t so bad, the intent of forcing a deal will be abandoned. Second, it cedes power to the Obama administration, which members of Congress don’t like. As Sen. John McCain put it in a recent interview, Senate appropriators spent many hours juggling the funds for Defense programs—why simply let Obama undo their work?

  • 3. A temporary fix. Washington has already done this once.

When Obama and Congress passed their fiscal-cliff deal in January, they delayed the sequester by finding two months’ worth of deficit reduction to match the sequester’s spending levels and decided to prevent the sequester from kicking in until March 1.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work. The sequester law, written into the 2011 Budget Control Act, doesn’t let Obama and Congress simply buy their way out of the sequester with related savings, a few months at a time. What Obama and Congress did was to undo the sequester temporarily.

This worked because everyone agreed on it. They found $24 billion by raising taxes and cutting waste from some government programs, and that was enough to match the spending levels the sequester would have implemented. At the same time, they changed the sequester’s start date, altering the original law and halting the sequester because they all agreed that was O.K.

There’s no reason, legally, why that can’t happen again. When President Obama addressed national TV cameras last week to protest that the sequester shouldn’t be allowed to happen, he suggested that Congress pass a temporary measure to give both sides enough time to reach a long-term deal.


So Sequester, I now see that you aren’t as unusual as I thought you were and yet you have your own unique characteristics. And in the spirit of seeking silver linings, I thank you for forcing me to better understand the government in which I serve.


Optimistic Public Employee


my pick is that number 3 is most likely. What about you?

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Erica Bakota

Question: Is there a list of agencies that are undertaking furloughs as a result of the sequester? I’m not just interested from a government employee standpoint- I think taxpayers have a right to know which agencies will be forced to offer reduced services as a result of the sequester. Just like our pay scales are not a secret, I don’t think it should be a secret as to who has to cut employee hours.

Erica Bakota

Thanks, Stephen! That’s as good of a list as I’ve ever seen on the cumulative impact of the sequester. If anyone is curious, I would highly recommend the link that Stephen posted below.