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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Should we be angry about this sequestration business?

Published: Sunday, March 3 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

The United States Capitol is reflected in the Capitol reflecting pool Wednesday evening, Feb. 27, 2013, in Washington.  (Alex Brandon, Associated Press) The United States Capitol is reflected in the Capitol reflecting pool Wednesday evening, Feb. 27, 2013, in Washington. (Alex Brandon, Associated Press)

The dreaded sequestration budget cuts are happening.

Should we be angry at the Utah congressional delegation for not doing more to avoid sequestration?

Pignanelli: "Congress: Bingo with billions." — Red Skelton

An unscientific but interesting method to measure Congress and its individual members is to compare them with teenagers. Individually, adolescents can be moody, non-communicative, frustrating; but often times can be smart, charming and fun. When two or more pre-adults gather, the real trouble begins. Within a short period of time every indicator of human civilization plummets: the collective IQ of the group, respect for others, any shred of common sense. A visit to a shopping mall verifies this behavior.

Our nation's capital is akin to a conference of teenagers, especially in which a herd mentality diminishes otherwise sophisticated humans. As separate people, our delegation is intelligent, respectable and legitimately concerned with the direction of the country. Unfortunately, the rhetoric from the respective caucuses (and the administration) is perceived as clueless partisan sniping (much like teenagers). The game of chicken over sequestration is also viewed as a dangerous exhibition of bravado (very much like teenagers). It is impossible to pin the blame of the sequestration mess on any one lawmaker — or the president. Thus, Americans continue to support their local members of Congress but disparage the government as a whole. It is not logical, but neither are teenagers.

Webb: We should congratulate our federal lawmakers for calling the Obama administration's bluff. I really hate that our national government lurches from crisis to crisis, but I don't want Congress to give in to Obama's demand for higher taxes, more government spending and unwillingness to responsibly address entitlements. So we're in for more stalemate and dysfunction.

If Congress and the president actually could reach a big, comprehensive "grand bargain" compromise, one that properly addresses entitlements, puts spending on a 10-year downward trajectory, and encompasses pro-growth tax reform, I'd say go for it in a heartbeat; even if higher taxes through closing loopholes are part of the deal. But as long as Obama demands higher taxes with little spending restraint, Utah's congressmen must stand firm.

Will the cuts be as bad as the Obama administration has portrayed?

Pignanelli: Starting this weekend, Americans will wonder what the fuss was all about. Yet, when summer vacation begins and the lines to enter national parks and airport security are miles in length, the harping will increase. Over time other impacts — especially in schools — will garner media attention and increase the heat. Congressional Republicans have failed in their messaging and will suffer the greater recriminations.

Webb: Just think, soon we'll be able to buy a bumper sticker that says, "I survived the great 2013 budget sequester." Our grandchildren will gaze at us in awe 10 years from now as we sit around a campfire and describe how we made do with 2 percent less in the federal budget.

We will regale the youngsters with tales of airplanes falling from the sky, of teachers getting fired, of terrorists infiltrating the country and buildings going up in flames, as promised by the Obama administration, all because we cut 2 percent out of the federal budget.

This debate shows how hard it is for Congress to get even a bit of control over federal spending. Washington is borrowing $4 of every $10 it spends, with no end in sight, but Obama and the Democrats are unwilling to cut even modest amounts.

Families can cut. Businesses can cut. States can cut. Local governments can cut. But the federal government can't cut without anguished cries that the sky is falling.

Does the tea party still control Republican policy in Congress?

Pignanelli: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other GOP officials continue to refer to their political affiliation as the "stupid party" because of never-ending tea party antics. Their influence is so concerning that Karl Rove is raising serious money to annihilate them. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will not invite the nation's most popular Republican to their annual conclave because he failed one of their many litmus tests, but will host a number of federal lawmakers who satisfy tea party demands. Thus, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is now viewed as the intelligent rationale conservative alternative to right-wingers in Congress (it also helps that Christie abounds in charisma — a natural product of his Italian heritage).

Webb: Conservative Republicans control the GOP agenda in Washington. I admit to having a rather split political personality because I take mostly mainstream positions on state and local issues, but I could be accused of being Tea Party-ish on national issues. In Utah, where we keep government under control and balance our budgets, I see government as a useful tool for citizens to do things together that would be difficult or impossible to do individually.

But at the federal level with all of its debt, excesses and irresponsibility, I concur with the strong conservatives. We're robbing the piggybanks of our grandchildren and we need to reverse the trajectory.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.

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