Sequestration is over, now Beltway reps must cut costs

Like most such doomsday scenarios, the federal budget sequestration deadline came and went without dire consequences. So far.

Rather than wait for the next crisis in this wearying serial, the president and Congress should end the gamesmanship and commit to lead the country to a more stable fiscal future.

With the next deadline coming up March 27, what’s needed now is leadership. President Barack Obama showed precious little of that during the buildup to the sequestration cuts, which trimmed a bit more than 2 percent from discretionary spending growth.

The president calculated that if he frightened Americans into believing horrible things would happen if the cuts kicked in, they would pressure House Republicans to cave to another round of tax hikes.

That tactic failed. Now, Obama should set aside the scaremongering and take the lead in crafting a comprehensive budget deal that puts an end to these too-frequent face-offs.

He should see from the Republican resolve to withstand his attacks in this round that they aren’t going to agree to more taxes. GOP lawmakers accepted income tax hikes in January without getting spending cuts in return.

Combined with the expiration of the 2 percent payroll tax holiday and the new Obamacare taxes, those revenue increases are already working to slow first-quarter growth. With the economy still sluggish, further tax hikes are too risky, and likely not needed.

What was useful about the sequestration showdown is that it stirred a lot of talk both inside and outside Washington about waste and inefficiency in the federal budget.

A lot of good ideas were offered for making budget cuts that would be far less impactful than the ones mandated by sequestration.

If Congress and the White House worked together to implement those suggested cuts, it would give them more credibility with the American people and help revive their sagging popularity numbers.

It would also draw a starting point for getting past the next two crisis points – the March 27 deadline for passing a continuing resolution to fund the government through the rest of the year, followed quickly by another debt ceiling cap.

Ultimately, the goal should be to produce the first federal budget in four years.

Of course, to get there requires something close to a working relationship between Obama and congressional Republicans. That’s nonexistent today.

A Washington Post story recently revealed the White House’s strategy is to use gridlock on the budget and other issues to retake the House from Republicans in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Some in the GOP have said from the beginning that their priority is to keep Obama from succeeding.

Both sides need to realize they can’t destroy each other without doing serious damage to the country.

They weren’t elected to further the interests of their respective political parties; they were elected to run the government.

Obama and Congress have a window to come up with a spending plan that both addresses the deficit and encourages more robust growth.

They shouldn’t let it close.