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Can Congress Rescue Itself?

Sequestration Consequences for GPS

Glen Gibbons
Congress made a blind date with Destiny. And, as we should all know by now, Destiny hates to be stood up.

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In the 1974 Mel Brooks’ movie, Blazing Saddles, one of the characters — surrounded by his enemies — points a gun at his head and tries to escape by taking himself hostage.

As I recall, he gets away with the absurd move and survives to fight another day. That’s Hollywood!

Last summer, Congress tried a similar gimmick with deficit reduction in the Budget Control Act of 2011, signed into law by President Barack Obama on August 2. The plan’s key mechanism, referred to now as “sequestration,” posed an outlandish threat — ostensibly to Congress but actually to the national security: if by the end of the 2011 session the House and Senate should fail to agree on how to reduce spending by $1.5 trillion dollars over the next decade, across-the-board cuts to all non-mandatory civil and military programs would be imposed beginning in fiscal year 2013.

Well, it was Washington, D.C., not Hollywood, and the move didn’t work. Now the legislative branch of the U.S. government is trying to figure out how to slip the bonds in which it has so exquisitely tangled itself.

And it ain’t pretty.

The clock is ticking, federal elections loom, and the D.C. agenda is filled with urgent issues. Sustaining and modernizing the Global Positioning System, of course, is obviously one closest to our community’s interests, but things don’t look good for the program.

In effect, Congress made a blind date with Destiny. And, as we should all know by now, Destiny hates to be stood up.

I don’t get the chance to invoke Firesign Theater much in my editorials, but this absurd situation does call to mind a couple of observations from the comedy troupe’s album, Everything You Know Is Wrong: “I don’t want to sanction stupidity as our national sport” and “Just dig a hole big enough and everyone will want to jump into it.”

When you find yourself in a deep hole, common wisdom says to stop digging. But that assumes you know which way is up — in the current mess not necessarily a foregone conclusion.

Sequesters, which trigger automatic spending cuts under certain conditions, have a hoary history. In 1985, another bipartisan movement —under a Republican administration that time — produced the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act, which introduced sequestration to a gullible or perhaps merely distracted Congress. Despite its noble title, the legislation was first declared unconstitutional, then revised, but ultimately failed to produce the intended results.

Sequestration takes the place of both practical politics and thoughtful action. And GPS cannot really help with the national debt anyway. The core program costs around a billion dollars a year. We could toss the entire GPS budget into the $1.5 trillion pit of sequestration and not make a ripple.

In Washington View, Dee Ann Divis lays out some of the probable consequences for GPS if sequestration occurs, including a bipartisan group’s assessment that triggering the automatic cuts could have devastating effects on our still weak-kneed economy.

Congress is coming in for a dead-stick landing and taking the country down with it.

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Jammer Dectector
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