Sequestration - A Symptom of a Broken U.S. Government?

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The FacultyRow Network asked four top US Professors: Is the "Sequestration" in Washington symptomatic of a broken U.S. Government?

Sequestration is only the most recent sign that the federal government is broken." - David A. Schultz is a professor of Political Science at Hamline University

For months, the only sign the American government was failing was the Fiscal Cliff. But the continued lack of cooperation between Congress and the president brought forth another worry that was meant to be a last resort. The sequester, which was put into action on March 1st, creates automatic budget cuts that will hopefully conserve $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years.

“Many people have yet to understand the Sequestration in full. There are so many facets, we didn’t really know how to go about educating the public. We decided to invite some of our top professors to “Weigh in” with an open ended format. - Jeffrey Finder / Director of the FacultyRow Network.

"Sequestration is only the most recent sign that the federal government is broken." - David A. Schultz is a professor of Political Science at Hamline University**

According to Schultz: “The automatic budget cuts known as sequestration that took effect on March 1st, 2013 represent just one more example of the dysfunctionalism that is gripping American politics. The Fiscal Cliff, breakdowns in budget negotiations, a possible shutdown, and partisan squabbling over just about everything makes it seem that politicians can no longer work together and get the job done for the American public. But why?”

“In order to know how America got here, we need to know where we came from.” - Joseph A. Palermo is a professor of US History at Cal State (Sacramento.)

Professor Palermo gives us the following timeline of other U.S. government hesitations:

After winning the House in 2010, the Republicans took the unprecedented step of holding hostage the debt ceiling as an extortionist tactic to get Obama to do what they wanted, i.e. more slashing Medicare, etc. out of this brinkmanship that set yet another terrible precedent came the "sequester" as a last minute "deal" (Boehner said he got 98 percent of what he wanted) to avert the global credit collapse;

Now, the Senate is filibustering everything again, leaving vacancies in the federal judiciary so the next president can fill them instead; Harry Reid was a fool not to press to end the filibuster, but he didn't have enough votes;

So, you see all of this budget brinkmanship stems from a political party that does not believe in government in any case -- they want to use their "leverage" now to get Obama to agree to stiff cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and he just might do it because he has always wanted a "Grand Bargain";

“Sequestration is constitutional, however, the American people deserve better” - Frank S. Ravitch, Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at Michigan State University.

According to Ravitch: “The Sequestration is constitutional. It will, however, have significant impact on the Federal courts. Federal dockets are vastly overcrowded with cases, and the sequestration will affect court employees through furloughs and a variety of other mechanisms. Moreover, the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies, will also face furloughs, which will also have a negative impact on the courts. While the sequestration is legal, it will have a significant impact on the legal system. It is irresponsible for Congress not to work this out. The American people deserve better from our elected officials.”

“We, the American public deserve much more effective leadership from our Federal officials including the President, Senate, and Congress. They failed the American business community, American government employees, and public at large. Why?” - James F. Rand, Clinical Professor of Business at Seattle Pacific University

According to Rand: There are three major reasons for their failure to reach a long term resolution to the national debt:

First: A lack of leadership from the President, Senators and Congress. Both parties have shown a remarkable lack in the core of leadership–instilling trust. They don’t trust each other and the American public now trusts them less than they have in the past. There is no question the American opinion of our leaders is in rapid decline. Our government has shown an inability to lead. They have not articulated a vision, they have failed to align the democratic systems, and they have not empowered anyone to move from their polarized positions of political ideology

The four major tenets of leadership i.e. vision, system alignment, empowerment and most of all trust have not been exhibited in any way by our elected officials. Additionally they have allowed a dictated sequester to take the place of a negotiated agreement. It was the easy way for them not to have to step forward and exert their leadership. We elected them; we, the American voters are partially to blame for not being more responsible in our choice of our representatives. They are also to blame because they do not understand the sacred trust placed in them to represent our hopes, desires, and aspirations. They, as a whole, represent only themselves and their special interests; not their constituents.

Second: No one in the government has thought strategically about the national debt. They are only interested in short term political ideology and media expedient solutions. This short term thinking neglects any strategically thoughtful approach to reducing the deficit over several years. There are several great examples of strategic thinking developed from extensive research over the past several years by Jim Collins and others. All of those involve exploring the current and future realities while engaging in dialogue and discussion regarding the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of each part of the problem. From that basis, Collins and others designed several long term strategic initiatives, a long term deployment framework, and insured that systems are aligned to support the strategies. We do not see that thought process occurred in the decision to enact the Sequester as a short term approach to move on from a deadlock

Third: The lack of either the ability or desire to negotiate. Negotiation is a process that is designed to move parties from their polarized positions not enhance them. I find it hard to believe they have little or no knowledge of negotiations. Therefore that points to their lack of desire to arrive at an agreement that would be in the best interest of the American public who elected them and pays their salaries.

Granted it takes a strong discipline, negotiating skill and desire to negotiate politically infused issues. However, our officials in the past several years have failed us miserably. The sequester is no exception.

In conclusion, the root cause of their failure to deal with the national debt in a timely manner lies at their lack of leadership, strategic thinking, and disciplined negotiations. We, the American public, will now pay the price of a dictated sequester.

**Professor David A. Schultz’s Newest book on American Politics:
American Politics in the Age of Ignorance: Why Lawmakers Choose Belief Over Research

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