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The sequester

Based upon its approval ratings, if Congress was a reality show on television, the plug would have been pulled a long time ago.

But while Americans hold a dim view of the House and Senate — a disapproval rating of 77 percent in a Fox News poll conducted earlier this month — overlooked are a few contributions that Congress has made.

We’re referring to our language skills.

Without the wrangling between the Republican Party and the Obama administration, would so many Americans be familiar with a word like “sequester” when it came to the running of government?

We’re sure that most people are aware that the word is generally defined as “to remove, lay aside separate.” No doubt there are people familiar with the concept of sequestering a jury during the trial, when the jury is isolated from influences outside the courtroom.

But Congress is using “sequester” as the name of the short-term, across-the-board spending cut that is set to happen March 1. If no deal is reached by Congress, then $85 billion will be cut from the federal budget between now and Sept. 30. The reduction would be split in half, one part discretionary programs and the other part defense.

Leave it to Congress to find a way push a word into our collective consciousness with unpleasant connotations.

This group of legislators has made gridlock standard operating procedure, but can’t, however, be credited for introducing sequester and sequestration into budget policy. That honor belongs to their predecessors, back in 1985. According to “A Glossary of Political Economy Terms,” compiled by Dr. Paul M. Johnson, professor of political science at Auburn University, “... the term has been adapted by Congress in more recent years to describe a new fiscal policy procedure originally provided for in the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act of 1985 — an effort to reform congressional voting procedures so as to make the size of the federal government’s budget deficit a matter of conscious choice rather than simply the arithmetical outcome of a decentralized appropriations process in which no one ever looked at the cumulative results until it was too late to change them.”

Johnson goes on to say, “The prospect of sequestration has thus come to seem so catastrophic that Congress so far has been unwilling actually to let it happen. Instead, Congress has repeatedly chosen simply to raise the Budget Resolution spending caps upward toward the end of the legislative session in order to match the actual totals already appropriated, thus largely wiping out the incentives that the reformed budget procedures were expected to provide for Congress to get better control of the budget deficit.”

Johnson published his definitions before a different approach to the budget, federal debt and the confrontation between Republicans and the White House resulted in the 2011 Budget Control Act, which has helped the nation land into this latest crisis.

If the indiscriminate cuts of sequestration are allowed to go through, Congress will only be reinforcing the public’s negative view of the federal government.

But unlike a television show, we can’t just change the channel.

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