If nothing else, the debate over the sequester has made painfully obvious the extent of political polarization and dysfunction in the nation's capital. However, it also has laid bare sharp divisions-and deep ambivalence-among Americans so fed up with Washington lawmakers.
Consider a few recent polls:
In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Tuesday, more than half of respondents said the automatic federal spending cuts due to take effect are a bad idea; only one-fifth think they are a good idea. Yet 53 percent favor the current mandated cuts-$85 billion this year and $1.2 trillion over the next decade-or a plan with even more spending reductions.
In a poll released last week by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, respondents were fairly closely divided on what to do if President Barack Obama and congressional leaders could not reach a deal to reduce the federal deficit. Forty-nine percent said it would be better to delay the automatic spending cuts, while 40 percent would like to see cuts take effect.
However, in response to a Pew question about what areas of government spending to cut, not one of 19 programs listed was named by a majority of poll participants. That's right: More than 50 percent of respondents would keep spending the same-or increase it-for programs ranging from military defense and disaster relief to unemployment aid.
In short, most Americans think generally that federal spending should be reduced, but at the same time they resist cuts to specific programs. Is it any surprise that the representatives we've sent to Washington show great reluctance to make significant, targeted reductions?
Hence the sequester, which was inserted into the Budget Control Act of 2011 as a way to force Congress and the White House to compromise. No one seems to have considered the possibility that it would not work.
Soon to follow are the March 27 deadline to authorize government funding for the rest of the fiscal year or face a shutdown, then another round on the debt ceiling in May. They could make the sequester fight seem like a minor dustup.
Doing what's right for the country will require political courage. Voters must do what they can to make clear that such courage will be rewarded, not punished.
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