Sequestration: trading barbs amid a scramble

Nine days until the sequester.

With time running out for the president and Congress to reach a compromise that staves off the sequester, politicians are hitting the airwaves and slinging accusations. Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech about sequestration — an event attended by the ASBMB Public Affairs office and other members of the public health community — regarding the types of jobs that would be lost and how this would affect the economy. Obama strongly stated that the sequester will not fix the nation’s debt issues and will cause significant job losses and impede the innovative work done by the nation’s researchers and inventors.

In response, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused the president of being a steward of wasteful spending and said that the alternative to the sequester is spending cuts that balance the budget within 10 years. Boehner also has continued trying to place the blame for sequestration on the president by calling it “Obamaquester.” Obama’s team did, in fact, propose the sequester to force both parties to find a deficit reduction solution. However, 202 Senate and House Republicans and 141 Senate and House Democrats voted for the bill that put sequestration in place, including the Republican and Democratic leadership in both houses. This blogger favored the name “Government-Manufactured Crisis That Will Seriously Damage the Economy,” but I wasn’t consulted when it came to naming the measure. That said, I don’t see how anyone who voted for or signed a piece of legislation can disavow any ownership of its outcome.

To avert sequestration, the president and Congress will need to agree to a series of spending cuts and whether or not taxes should be raised. Members of Congress are often in favor of cutting away the excesses of government, except when those cuts occur in their own states or districts. This not-in-my-backyard mindset has become apparent with the sequester, too. Several committees have held hearings about the effects of the sequester and many of the questions asked of the witnesses have related to how much leeway administrators have to avoid budget cuts and mitigate job losses back home. The Obama administration has been tight-lipped about how the budget cuts will be doled out so the answers to lawmaker’s questions have been vague.

Do you know who funds research in all 50 states? The National Institutes of Health. Do you know how many states will be affected if the NIH budget is cut by sequestration? Fifty. NIH-funded research occurs in the “backyard” of every member of Congress. The only way your representatives will realize this before March 1 is if you tell them. Visit our Advocacy Toolkit to find out the best practices for reaching your legislators, and, of course, stay tuned to the Policy Blotter for all of the latest updates.

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