Holding the American People Hostage

Christopher Weyant, The Hill

Christopher Weyant, The Hill

by Walter Brasch

Judges who wish to assure that a jury has no outside influence will sequester them.

Legally, a sequestered jury is seized by authority and isolated from all outside influences.

The jurors are escorted into and out of the courtroom. They aren’t allowed to read newspapers, listen to radio news, or watch TV news, ’lest they could be influenced by the media. They are escorted to and from meals, and isolated from other customers. They can’t discuss the case with family or friends. They can’t even go home at the end of the day; they’re housed in hotel rooms.

In the summer of 2011, a bipartisan “super-committee” was supposed to come up with a reasonable budget to eliminate $1.2–$1.5 trillion from the national deficit. The Congressionally-mandated sequester went into effect two weeks ago when Congress couldn’t come up with a better idea about the budget. The draconian cuts across all federal programs was supposed to be enacted only as a last-ditch measure. The concept was that Congress and the Administration would be so fearful of the results of the sequester, which the media and elected officials often called a “poison pill,” they would take the time to thoughtfully work out a proper budget, and the sequester would never happen.

But, the Republicans dug in their heels, refused to compromise, and even continued their vacations the last week before the sequester went into effect.

Republican Speaker John Boehner claims he doesn’t like the sequester, never liked it—although he praised it a year ago—and blames President Obama.

President Obama wanted to restore the tax rates that existed before the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000, while keeping the tax cuts for everyone else. Under Republican pressure, he eventually raised the limit to $400,000. The President further proposed a budget that would yield $1.1 trillion in spending cuts and $700 billion in increased revenue, primarily from closing federal tax loopholes and deductions that benefitted primarily the nation’s upper class. That proposal already included cutting back the deficit by $600 billion. (For those keeping track, George W. Bush came into office with a $236.2 billion surplus; by the end of his presidency, he left Barack Obama a $500 billion deficit and the worst Recession since the Great Depression of 1929.)

The Republicans, willingly jerked around by their Tea Party base, don’t want the restoration of the tax rates for anyone. Of course, they also don’t want to end billions of dollars of corporate subsidies, paid for through taxes upon the working poor. Until this past week, the Republicans didn’t even have a budget proposal of their own until they dusted off and put new polish on Rep. Paul Ryan’s slightly revised budget proposal from the 2012 campaign. That would be the budget proposal the American people rejected when they gave Barack Obama a resounding second term victory.

The Congressional Budget Office says the sequester could cut more than 750,000 federal jobs. Republicans like that idea, especially since most federal employees are also members of unions. But, those jobs include public health officials, social service workers, teachers, air traffic controllers, and others in critical jobs. Cutting social services appeals to the Republican mind-set, but cutting the number of air traffic controllers alone would cause not just a severe reduction of flights, but significant lost revenue for the airlines. Obviously, the Republicans, the party of corporate America, don’t really care.

And now we learn that the Republican leadership wasn’t honest with their own members, and didn’t tell them of the cuts the President had already agreed to, and the myriad compromises he had already made with the Republican speaker of the house and the Republican senate minority chair to try to avoid the sequester.

It may seem that Congress had no idea what the word “sequester” meant when it created this fiscal disaster. But the reality is that Congress does know. Its actions—or, rather, its failure to act— has left the American people isolated and held hostage by authority. This time, it’s not a judge sequestering a jury, but a Republican-dominated Congress sequestering all of the American people.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the best-selling Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the consequences of fracking by the natural gas industry. The book is available through amazon.com, greeleyandstone.com, or local bookstores.]



Award-winning journalist and author, specializing in social issues, media, and pop culture. http://www.linkedin.com/pub/walter-brasch/9/846/616

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  1. I still don’t get why the GOP keeps insisting that somehow making the govt smaller is this really great solution to everything. It all seems to ride on this blanket assumption that the govt doesn’t do anything when in fact the opposite is true. The govt provides roads, utilities, social services, courts, etc…., we need this stuff. Its something that isn’t going to be efficiently or effectively provided, if at all, by the private sector. Nations without these services are usually pretty crappy nations, and so would we be without them. Yes, the govt creates waste, but saying that we just need to shrink govt across the boards seems like an absurd case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    To me, this is one of the most important platforms of the GOP that needs to be challenged if we are to approach tackling this nations problems. Big, powerful nations need big, powerful govt to manage resources and lay the infrastructure for everyone. The one area we truly waste money is on the military. We of course need a military, and I’ll even agree we need the strongest in the world, but we can still do that on a lot less money than we spend now.

  2. Slam, to follow-up on your post, one of the things that I think needs to be addressed is that a healthy fear of government should be shared with a healthy skepticism of the private markets. In many ways, we have wings of the two parties that represent one or the other ideal but not both. For instance, the libertarian-wing of the GOP puts private markets on pedestals, as if they are some shining example. Greed, corruption, and inefficient and bureaucratic red-tape can be systemic in private companies as much as in public governmental organizations; health insurance companies come to mind. Sure, private companies can hire and fire more easily than most governments, and private companies are ultimately beholden to profit (which can make for higher productivity), but they’re no more altruistic than governments. Privatizing portions of the government does not mean these services will be any better (and they could perhaps be worse). I think of our military private contractors (Blackwater which became Xe) who were paid double for doing roughly the same job as our military members – and some of those contractors were simply loose cannons.

  3. WB, I usually enjoy and agree with your articles. I am sequestering my comments on this article.

  4. The art of compromise requires desire on the part of all parties involved for a solution. I see little evidence any such desire exists on the political right. Lip service doesn’t count.

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