The real enemy

Congress needs to work with the president

“We have met the enemy and he is us,” the comic-strip character Pogo used to say. He could have been talking about the self-inflicted disaster known as the sequester—and, indeed, the series of what President Obama calls “manufactured crises” that results from Congress’ refusal to do what the public has said it wants Congress to do: tackle the deficit with a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases.

Let’s remember that Congress, including the House, voted for the sequester. So blaming it on the president is dishonest. It’s also pointless. Either this dilemma will be resolved, or considerable needless damage will occur.

House Republicans seem to have resigned themselves to the cuts. They apparently would rather slow the recovery, throw hundreds of thousands of people out of work, slash safety-net spending for the poorest Americans, and take a meat cleaver to the defense budget than close tax loopholes that benefit the richest Americans.

That’s what’s at stake here. The sequester amounts to $85 billion in across-the-board cuts starting Friday (March 1). Senate Democrats have proposed $110 billion in spending cuts and tax increases. The latter would be achieved by reducing oil subsidies, ending the deductions businesses take for moving jobs overseas, and ending the provision in the tax code that allows billionaire hedge-fund managers to pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries do.

This last is crucial. According to a new report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, as reported in The Washington Post, the single greatest driver of income inequality over a recent 15-year period was runaway income from capital gains and dividends. And yet Republicans refuse to ask the ultra-wealthy to pay more, even if it means damaging the military and the economy. It makes no sense.