I will be the first to admit that until recently the words sequester and sequestration were foreign to my daily vocabulary. Before the daily news inundation of these words, the only time I recall sequester being used was in regard to a jury when it is locked away. Today we are also reminded that the Catholic cardinals were sequestered when they began the process of choosing a new pope.
Sequester comes from the Late Latin word “sequestrare,” which means surrender into hands of a trustee. Sequestration is a term that originally referred to disputed valuable property that was taken into custody for safekeeping by the courts. Usually an agent of the court locked it away to prevent the property from being abused or misused until the ownership of the property was resolved.
Our esteemed Congress adopted the term back in 1985 to help explain a new fiscal procedure produced by the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act, also known as the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings (GRH) Act. Phil Gramm, the retired Republican senator from Texas, stands by both the name and the idea behind sequestration. Gramm says the word was actually suggested to him by the House Majority Leader Jim Wright, a Texas Democrat. They had considered using the word “impoundment.”
The act was an effort to reform Congress’ voting methods regarding the size of the federal deficit. It was designed to make voting on the deficit a matter of conscience and not just an automatic process of voting for increases without considering the cumulative results. The act required Congress AND the president to find the conditions necessary that would reduce the deficit spending.
If no agreement could be found, then the money in question would be set aside or “sequestered.” “Under sequestration, an amount of money equal to the difference between the cap set in the Budget Resolution and the amount actually appropriated is sequestered by the Treasury and not handed over to the agencies to which it was originally appropriated by Congress.”
It was thought that sequestration would be the final backstop on overspending. The prospect of sequestration was believed to be too ruinous for Congress to actually to let it happen. Until recently, instead of making tough decisions regarding deficit spending, Congress has repeatedly chosen to raise the budget resolution spending caps.
Fast-forward to the Budget Control Act of 2011. A super-committee of six Democrats and six Republicans was to come up with ways to reduce the out of control deficit spending without increasing taxes.
If a compromise could not be reached, the sequestration requirements would be resurrected. This sequestration required comprehensive spending cuts equaling 9 percent for non-defense agencies and 13 percent for the Department of Defense. A compromise failed to be achieved.
In theory, sequestration is an across-the-board cut to all budget accounts; however, Congress has chosen to exempt certain programs from the process such as Social Security. The Medicare program is capped at 2 percent. Other exempt entitlements include federal retirement benefits, Medicaid, and several nutrition and low income programs.
To keep the sequestration from occurring, Senators Inhofe of Oklahoma and Toomey of Pennsylvania introduced a bill. It would have given President Obama the flexibility to develop his very own plan on how to implement 85 billion dollars in automatic spending cuts.
Senate Democrats opposed the GOP bill, and it did not pass. Was it because they thought that the public would blame their party for the cuts thus making them politically liable? If it had passed, the president would have been forced to make his own tough choices on how to slash the
The White House in now closed for tours. According to the president, this is necessary because sequestration has caused Secret Service staffing cuts. Tourists and especially students who have made long-time plans to come to the Capitol and tour the White House are now left out in the cold.
President Obama is doing what he can to maximize any damage that people may feel because of the sequestration. It seems that it doesn’t matter to this president who gets hurt as long as his name is not attached to the issue.
The key to reversing the sequestration debacle should be a no brainer. To solve the current fiscal impasse, LEADERSHIP is required. Leaders find common ground and do not care who gets the credit or the blame. It’s time for the president to start governing and to quit campaigning. He is the president of all Americans not just those of his party.
Just think. Without the GRH Act, instead of “sequestration” daily bombarding our ears, we could be hearing about “impoundment” issues. This might result in the adoption of lots of pets because low information voters would be running to animal shelters wondering what the fuss is all about.
WILLEE COOPER is a former teacher and military spouse. A Hopkinsville resident, she is past president of the Kentucky Federation of Republican Women. Her column runs on the first and third Friday of each month. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.