On Friday, President Obama officially signed the order to begin $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts for 2013. I have a message for Congress: If you are going to furlough half a million workers, making them lose a quarter of their wages, then why not share some of the burden?
Sequester should include docking the pay of our congressional leaders — maybe then they will miraculously come up with a budget agreement. They are the ones behaving irresponsibly, yet hard workers like my mother, a federal employee, are forced to bear the brunt of these automatic spending cuts. Why should Congress get paid for doing absolutely nothing?
It is about accountability. Many of our policymakers — and I use that term strictly for conventional purposes — wanted sequestration to happen. Even crazier, some of them think it is a good idea. Congressional Republicans argue that they already compromised with Obama on tax increases back in the fiscal cliff fight, and therefore doing it again is not an option. But in reality, they were not compromising much. Last December, the failure to come up with an agreement meant automatic tax increases for everyone, including the middle class. So, to save political face, Republicans acceded to a less severe set of tax hikes on individuals making over $400,000.
Now, sequestration means automatic government spending cuts totaling $85 billion this year. And reining in federal spending is something Republicans want, no matter how extreme or destructive. They unrelentingly refuse to accept tax revenue as part of the deal — even if it includes revenue from closing special interest tax loopholes for oil and gas companies.
So take 20 percent out of their annual wages. Not such a good idea anymore, right? Congress gets paid to pass legislation. If they cannot do their job, they should get a pay cut. There are millions of people actually doing their jobs who are punished by the incompetence and polarization plaguing Capitol Hill. This Congress has passed even less legislation than the notorious Do Nothing Congress of the 1940s. And now, at a time of excruciatingly slow economic growth, they sat around for 16 months without any sense of urgency and inexcusably allowed the sequester to go into effect — inaction that will cost us 750,000 jobs in 2013 alone.
Meanwhile, Congress went home this past weekend. I guess they needed a break from doing essentially nothing for over a year.
What Congressional Republicans need to understand is the majority of the American people voted for tax increases this past election. Let me repeat: Obama ran his campaign on raising taxes. And newsflash — he won decisively.
Republicans, like Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, cannot seem to wrap their heads around it. McConnell said, “The American people will simply not accept replacing spending cuts agreed to by both parties with tax hikes.”
The fact that they will not budge on any plan including tax revenue to prevent a government shutdown is like the clown guy Norman Snively from “Air Bud” hitting the poor golden retriever with a roll of newspaper because he wouldn’t run to him. Republicans: Stop hitting Americans over the head because we didn’t elect you. We picked sustaining nutrition programs for low-income women and children like the Women, Infants and Children program, which now has to turn away an estimated 600,000 people. We chose unemployment benefits and Hurricane Sandy relief. We didn’t choose recklessly slashing discretionary spending, including $2.5 billion in Hurricane Sandy aid.
And yet, last Thursday, not a single Senate Republican worked across party lines to back a Democratic proposal that would have replaced the sequester with higher taxes on families earning more than $5 million a year.
For too long, Republicans in Congress have prevented productive legislation from passing. So for that, I say cut their wages. There is no reason why their inaction should break the backs of middle- and low-income families. And perhaps this addition to the sequester would provide a large enough incentive for members of Congress to never let this happen again.
Raquel Woodruff is deputy opinion editor. Email her at email@example.com.
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