The omnibus budget deal slithering its way toward President Barack Obama’s desk for signing abandons the automatic spending cuts that resulted from an earlier fiscal compromise. Why was the sequester abandoned? Like the Gramm-Rudman Act a generation earlier, the sequester had to be stopped for one fundamental, undeniable, bipartisan reason.
It did not work perfectly, and it did not balance the budget or put us on course for a balanced budget. But it did play a critical role in nudging the deficit away from “catastrophic existential threat” territory and toward “terrifying money-suck.” It did this in part by forcing Republicans to accept cuts in military spending, which they are not normally much inclined to do. (It goes without saying that the Democrats are categorically hostile to spending reductions.) Because we cannot rely for very long upon the better angels of congressional nature, these statutory limits are always destined to be short-lived, which should be of some concern to us: Experience shows that when Congress agrees to a budget-control deal, the first thing it does is begin looking for opportunities to undermine that deal.