With another highly charged U.S. election now in the rearview mirror, Washington’s attention has once again turned to sequestration, the dramatic budget cuts that will kick in automatically in early January unless Congress and the White House can come to terms on a plan for reducing the nation’s massive deficit.
Not surprisingly, sequestration became an issue in the congressional and presidential campaigns, with candidates trying to assign blame to their opponents for the looming disaster. One would think that in the wake of the election, which for the most part confirmed the political status quo, Democrats and Republicans would be prepared to roll up their sleeves and make a deal.
But the posturing has continued, even as re-elected President Barack Obama met with congressional leaders Nov. 16 to begin hammering out a budget deal.
Meanwhile, U.S. space companies, most of which rely heavily on government business, are beyond jittery — sequestration would impose some $500 billion in across-the-board cuts to the Pentagon over the next decade while NASA would lose $1.4 billion, or 8 percent of its budget, next year alone.
Some companies have put hiring on hold, citing uncertainty over funding for programs already under contract. More broadly, defense and aerospace companies have seen their stock prices decline since the election. The prospect of sequestration is a likely factor in that decline, even if stockholders were disappointed that presidential challenger Mitt Romney, who promised to boost defense spending, lost his bid to unseat the incumbent.
Election-year jockeying is a lousy justification for recklessly holding a critical industry — indeed the broader national economy — hostage, but it is a recognizable, tangible dynamic nonetheless. Now that the voters’ ballots have been counted, however, there is no excuse, not even the brazen political selfishness that pervades Washington these days, not to get a budget deal done and bury the sequestration specter for good.