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Congress has lost its way

Editorial

Even with a decidedly partisan overtone, a comment Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on the congressional-created monster sequestration that is looking more and more like the mythical hydra, makes a point.

“To my Republican colleagues … if you feel comfortable with cutting the government this way, then you have lost your way as much as the president,” Graham said. “I am sure Iran is very supportive of sequestration. I am sure al-Qaida training camps all over the world must be pleased with the fact that sequestration will gut the CIA and the intelligence platforms that follow them around.”

Indeed, Congress has lost its way as it gets more and more polarized. The number of senators and representatives who are able — and willing — to find and work for compromise solutions are becoming so scarce, they should be included on the endangered species list.

The reason for this is an old song, one that never was popular. Congress, unable to deal with the national debt and year after year of deficit spending topping $1 trillion annually, decided to create a poison pill that it would require itself to swallow if a bipartisan committee it established failed to succeed at its mission of reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion over a 10-year period.

The idea was that if the committee — a so-called Super Committee — was unable to reach a consensus that the House and Senate could approve, across-the-board cuts would be implemented in an indiscriminate, meat-cleaver fashion.

Members of Congress were of the opinion that with so much at stake, there was no way the committee would fail. It did. And it was only in late December that the House and Senate forestalled the implementation of the cuts known as sequestration, essentially buying a couple of months to reach a solution.

Now, the deadline is March 1, and an alarming number of senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle appear ready to let the cuts hit where they will, figuring, no doubt, there are ways their respective political parties can benefit by spinning the repercussions in ways that make their side look good.

Failure to act means that $85 billion will be trimmed from spending in the final seven months of the current budget year — one, by the way, which doesn’t have an actual budget because the two chambers of Congress can’t manage to write one.

In a report Wednesday by Reuters News Service, a Senate aide who didn’t want to be identified said it wasn’t like “something horrible” happens March 2 without an agreement. “It’ll be cumulative, unlike the cliff,” the aide said.

Well, that’s just fine. The cliff has a slope of sorts. Instead of a meat ax, America can take comfort that, instead, it faces only a thousand smaller cuts.

We’ll all sleep better knowing that.

The problem is there is too much hardheadedness inside the Washington Beltway from a Legislature, a White House and a gaggle of bureaucrats and special interest groups who would be more at home in Fantasy Land than the seat of the federal government.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty will take more and more toll on the marketplace and on government agencies and employees, contractors and those who utilize government services. It will also impact the ability of America to defend itself. Already there has been an announcement by the Navy that the planned deployment today of the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group has been delayed, which means the United States will not have the second carrier group that defense officials believe they need in the Middle East.

It’s time for the House, Senate and White House to get together and deal with this problem, rather than ignore it or put it off again.