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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Taking a stab at national issues, like sequestration

Published: Sunday, May 5 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., is shown in this file photo. (Shutterstock) The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., is shown in this file photo. (Shutterstock)

Since it's a quiet time in state and local politics, we're going to fake like we know what's happening in Washington and address some national issues. So now you don't need to read The New York Times.

The federal budget sequestration is reducing funding in many programs and we're hearing tales of woe. Was it a major mistake to allow sequestration to occur?

Pignanelli: "The man who knows governments most completely is he who troubles himself least about a definition which shall give their essence. "—William James

As with most politicos, I alternate between anger and laughter when contemplating the sequestration. The Administration and Congressional Republicans are blaming the other for developing the concept and even the label "sequestration." On the eve of its March 1 implementation Republicans claimed Americans would learn that budget cuts were not difficult to experience, while Democrats believed in a backlash against the loss of federal funds. Recent national surveys indicate 52 percent of Americans do not know whether sequestration was a good or bad thing.

So thousands of indigent Americans are suffering diminishing safety net programs while key military projects are sidelined and neither party is gaining the anticipated political benefit.

Last week, Congress finally figured out sequestration would cause a traffic controllers furlough and delay hundreds of flights, thereby impacting their vacations. To no one's surprise, they found the bipartisan spirit to remedy this problem and then raced to the airport. No wonder Americans don't care.

Webb: The reality is that sequestration cuts are just a tiny taste of things to come. If we are serious about controlling the federal budget, if we really want to stop borrowing $4 of every $10 we spend, if we want to stop piling enormous debt burdens on our children and grandchildren, then much deeper cuts are required — and all of them will be painful.

Politicians will say we can painlessly eliminate waste and mismanagement. That's baloney. Why didn't they do that a long time ago? Everyone can list things they'd like to cut, me included. But a passionate, vocal constituency exists for every program in existence, and pressure to keep spending will be intense. Children will go hungry, old people will sleep in the streets, thousands will lose their jobs and our students will go uneducated. That's what we'll hear.

And just wait until the politicians finally get around to considering cuts where the real money is and the only place they can really dent the deficit — Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and the military. There will be blood in the streets.

Europe has already shown that austerity is very unpopular. Politicians lose their jobs. I doubt our elected leaders can take the heat, and citizens are too dependent on federal largesse to allow meaningful cuts. The debt balloon will only expand – until it pops.

Small groups of Republicans and Democrats in Congress are working together on a few issues like immigration and gun control. Are we starting to see less partisanship and more cooperation to get things done in Congress?

Pignanelli: Although nothing has passed, the evidence of legislation crafted in a bipartisan manner demonstrates members of Congress can talk to each other without spitting and throwing objects. But this is not the beginning of a golden age of visionary leadership. The progress is driven by fear or greed. Smart Republicans well understand that they are doomed to a minority status unless they adjust course on immigration. Democrats hope to enhance their relationship with Latino voters through similar action. Millions of Americans just want a fair resolution of this issue — regardless of the incentive.

Bipartisanship in gun legislation is simply coincidental. Many federal lawmakers want to pass something (regardless of how light) to demonstrate sympathy for the recent violence but not enough to overly aggravate gun rights organizations. Straddling a fence to this degree usually causes injuries.

Webb: We're seeing signs of hope. But much more divides the House, Senate and the president than unites them. We need grand bargains on many issues, and aren't likely to get much.

President Obama's approval ratings have dropped. Will he accomplish his second term goals?

Pignanelli: The president is a clever communicator, who usually avoids any traps created by Republicans. However, he is physically unable to twist congressional arms for his programs and relies upon speechmaking and popularity with the public. Therefore, his future legislative agenda will depend much on how health care reform is implemented and perceived by Americans.

Webb: Obama needs Republican votes to achieve anything, but he demonizes Republicans at every opportunity. He says he wants to work with them, find common ground — but his real strategy is to destroy Republicans in 2014 and win control of the House. So much for cooperation.

Obamacare, the president's historic achievement when he controlled both houses of Congress, is driving up health care costs and making life far more complicated. Term two runs through swampland with lots of quicksand and alligators.

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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