Tomorrow, our nation achieves what is called in Washington D.C.-speak the sequestration milestone. Using the words "achieved a milestone" is a bit of stretch for some because "achieving a milestone" are words generally reserved to describe positive events. Some would prefer to call sequestration a "millstone" instead of a milestone — and a very negative budget event.
Clearly sequestration will have an impact on our nation. Just how much is yet to be seen. Milestone or millstone, something needs to be done about our uncontrolled spending, if not the meat cleaver approach that sequestration poses.
Simply, sequestration is nothing but cutting an unaffordable budget. Tomorrow nearly a trillion dollars will be, somewhat indiscriminately and with insufficient forethought, axed incrementally from a budget that Congress hasn’t formally approved in years of unapproved budgets that we can’t afford.
Sequestration was conceived by the Obama Administration’s so-called "Super Committee" as a means to overcome earlier budget crises our nation had created for itself and to force a decision. It is comprised of budget cuts so distasteful to both Republicans and Democrats — slashes to both defense and entitlement programs and other Republican and Democrat sacred cows — that it was envisioned by both the executive and legislative branches of our government as unlikely to ever happen.
As I write this, sequestration appears as if it will happen. The Obama Administration is, Chicken Little-like, claiming the sky will fall tomorrow. The Republicans who control the House of Representatives but don’t have the presidential bullhorn or the media attention are pooh-poohing the dire warnings of the president and depending, it seems, on the public to blame Obama for sequestration’s impact whatever it may be. Both parties seem willing to let it happen.
There will be impact in Eastern North Carolina, but not immediately felt. Late April, furloughs of federal employees at Cherry Point, including those at Fleet Readiness Center East, Camp Lejeune and New River could cause a 20 percent pay cut, at least for the time being.
The threat is serious enough that the Commandant of the Marine Corps recently sent a letter to what he calls his "civilian Marines" — federal employees working for the Marines — writing, "With or without sequestration, challenging fiscal times lie ahead. The Marine Corps, like the rest of our armed forces, will have to find ways to accomplish missions within reduced budgets. Some form of reduction of civilian personnel accounts is likely unavoidable. As a result, there may be administrative furloughs." Sequestration will cause real impact to real people.
What has caused this to happen, at least partly, is that our executive and legislative branches of government have fallen prey to what leadership scholars call decision-making biases. Flawed decisions were made about the sequester by people in both branches — including the president himself, members of Congress, and the members of the Super Committee as well as others.
One decision making bias that is evident is called the "Confirmation" bias. This bias causes decision-makers to favor information that supports their preconceptions. One preconception that caused this bad decision was that sequestration would never happen because of its across-the-board distastefulness. Everyone was wrong on that one.
Another bias evident by decision-makers in this sequester comedy of errors is called the "Regression to the Mean" bias. This bias occurs because decision-makers typically assume a future outcome can be predicted by an outcome from the past with a similar set of circumstances. While budget battles have solved in the past albeit at the brink, they were solved nonetheless.
Two more decision-making biases that are evident in many of the decisions our politicians make, including the sequester decision, are the "Illusion of Control" and "Discounting the Future" biases. Illusion of Control occurs when decision-makers believe they can influence an event when, in fact, they have little to no control over the outcome. The Discounting the Future bias occurs when decision-makers consider short term benefits as having more value than long term ones. Both of these final two decision-making biases plague our nation’s politics and are quite evident in the sequester "follies" in which we now find ourselves.
Regardless of whether you believe sequestration is a national milestone or a millstone, Congress and the president are likely, just as they have done in the past, to kick America’s budget and spending "cans" further down the road in post-sequestration "fixes."
I could be wrong that sequestration will happen tomorrow. Yet while the "fixes" to sequestration that are sure to come may help with easing the impact of local furloughs on our friends and neighbors, such bad decisions to delay the inevitable spending cuts will just assure us all of more Discounting the Future bias in our so-called leaders — and the incumbent decision-making failures that will continue to plague our economy and our nation.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.