Who’s to blame for sequestration? It doesn’t matter

Gary Shapiro President and CEO, Consumer Technology Association
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While the world sees our sequestration controversy as evidence of America’s receding primacy and Americans look on with disgust, Washington politicians keep blaming each other rather than solving our budget impasse.

Sequestration was the result of the 2011 debt-ceiling battle, and it was originally scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of this year. However, minutes after the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2013, Republicans agreed to extend the deadline to March 1 to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. Sequestration requires defense spending to be cut by almost eight percent and non-entitlement spending to be cut by five percent (both based on growth budgets) unless Congress can pass a budget otherwise.

Whether sequestration is a problem is in dispute. In business, any CEO who has faced the reality of a budget simply makes the cuts necessary to do what’s best for the longevity of the company. But short-term budget cutting is tougher in government. So how can we resolve our budget issues?

It is tough, since Republicans and Democrats have opposing views. The only thing they seem able to agree on is disagreeing, which continues to move the problem of the expanding deficit down the road.

Republicans see the growth in the debt, the rising costs of social programs and future deficit projections as Armageddon. Democrats see concerns about the deficit as overblown, politically motivated and part of a Republican desire to cut spending on programs affecting average Americans, especially entitlements. Many Democrats view the deficit as something easily overcome by raising taxes on high-income Americans.

Many Republicans pledged they would never raise taxes — even if doing so is in the best interests of the country. To keep the pledge, they even waited until higher taxes went into effect in 2013 before they allowed taxes to be raised for the highest-income Americans. It will take an act of courage for any Republican to accept a deal allowing taxes to be raised, even if the deal simply cuts special-interest loopholes.

The House Republicans, however, can claim they tried to avoid sequestration. In 2012, they voted twice to replace the sequestration, but the Senate never acted on those bills. The Democrats claim “we have no spending problem” while they ignore the non-partisan financial projections and claim that any problem can be resolved by taxing the highest-income earners. Yet, even taxing 100 percent of the income of the top one percent of Americans would barely dent the debt.

Especially when you consider that both the Senate and the House voted to take a week-long recess with the deadline looming, no serious efforts seem to be underway by either side to explore a compromise. There is plenty of blame to go around.

So how do we get out of this deteriorating situation where we lack political leaders willing to make decisions on national priorities through votes and compromise? How can we save our children from the promises we made to ourselves, which we cannot afford? How can we stop politicians from promising everything to everybody and, in the process, leaving our kids with choking debt?

If enough of us stand up and demand our politicians act, they will. We did it a year ago to block legislation that would have damaged the Internet. It’s time we did it again.

Here is what I suggest:

● Insist politicians agree on the facts. A group I support, No Labels, has proposed that political leaders sign a document each year representing the actual finances of the nation.

● Insist politicians work across party lines to solve problems. Already, more than 40 members of Congress have committed to this idea. Ask your member why he or she is not part of this group.

● Insist politicians come up with a long-term plan based on shared sacrifice. If our brave soldiers can risk life and limb, can’t we accept the reality that we have to give more and get less from government so our children have a chance to succeed? Our parents certainly sacrificed for us. Why can’t we sacrifice for our children?

If you believe in any of this, pass it along, write a letter to the editor, post an article on a blog, run for office, join No Labels or the Innovation Movement. Do something. Silence is not an option when our nation’s and our children’s future is on the line.

Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and the author of the New York Times best-selling books Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro.