Government dysfunction, part 1: The unaddressed 'sequester' mess

First, members of Congress set a trap that would bite hard if they failed to break the political gridlock and come up with a grand bargain on the budget. Then, having failed, they let the trap spring shut. And now, they continue to blunder and bluster as the country remains locked in the vise grip of the so-called sequester.

It is not in the news much anymore, but the automatic across-the-board cuts – the spur to legislative action that resulted in no action – continue to kick in. In the aftermath of the monster tornado that struck Oklahoma last week, a detail that went largely unnoticed was that federal money for emergency relief had been slashed by $1 billion because of the sequester. The disasters won’t stop, but the money might run out.

Meanwhile, the budget for the National Institutes of Health has fallen by nearly $2 billion. That means hundreds of fewer grants for research into new ways to prevent or treat diseases.

As the wildfire season approaches, the U.S. Forest Service is asking 41 states to return millions of dollars that are part of a revenue-sharing scheme that goes back to the days of Teddy Roosevelt. Thanks to sequestration, the Forest Service says it cannot afford to share anymore.

The list, of course, goes on and on – from nice things we can live without if we must, such as the Blue Angels air shows and some exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution, to things some people literally may not be able to live without, such as feeding programs and healthcare assistance.

Even though the federal deficit is dropping – due, in particular, to the increase in taxes for the rich that kicked in on Jan. 1 – Congress remains mired in tired rhetoric and false premises about overspending and big government. Instead of wasting time bloviating about tea party fantasies, our leaders should get busy cleaning up the mess they have made by failing to do their jobs.

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