Editorial | End the Sequestration Charade

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Amid the latest round of political posturing and bluster over the looming across-the-board budget cut known as sequestration, there appears to be one promising idea: Take it off the table entirely.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, appears to have suggested as much in an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama dated Feb. 4. The lawmaker urged the president to “immediately” send Congress a written proposal to avert sequestration.

In the letter, and in one addressed to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Mr. Wolf said sequestration, while degrading U.S. military capabilities, addresses only discretionary funding, leaving entitlement spending, which he characterized as the real driver of the U.S. federal deficit, untouched.

This is true, of course, but there’s another point that seems to be getting lost in the debate: As a policy, sequestration simply isn’t working.

The Obama administration proposed sequestration, and Congress went along, as a way to compel the two sides to come to a long-term agreement on deficit reduction. The idea was that the threat of deep cuts to programs dear to both camps would leave them little choice but to deal.

But as a forcing function, sequestration has been an abject failure; instead of an agreement — or even serious discussion — it has brought only rolling crises that have distracted the government from its other fiscal duties, such as proposing and passing annual federal budgets.

Amid the perpetual uncertainty, programs and activities are being deferred, something that will drive up their costs in the long run. If sequestration is somehow allowed to take effect, even for a brief period, the delays and disruptions — and the associated cost growth — will only be magnified.

To be sure, the ballooning deficit is an immense problem that will sap the country’s future economic vitality if it goes unaddressed. But sequestration by itself won’t fix the deficit problem; nor has it served as a motivator. It’s time to end this debilitating show of U.S. political theater — give sequestration the hook.