The sequester is upon us, and the federal government is having to make cuts that Congress members agreed on as a harsh backup measure, in case they proved incapable of a better solution.
We're mostly OK with it, out of necessity.
It's certainly not ideal, but any solution was bound to come with a lot of budgetary bleeding. That's because we face an enormous problem - a $16.6 trillion national debt being augmented by federal deficits of about $1.3 trillion a year in each of the four years since President Obama took office. That's about $1 trillion more, annually, than in each of the years George W. Bush was president.
That's a runaway bull, and there's no way to catch it without getting scuffed up and risking a few broken bones. Even a goring or two is better than the alternative - letting the thing run wild toward our children. If federal spending isn't cut in a big way, then we're leaving the bull for our children to deal with.
The sequester's automatic spending cuts aren't enough to rein in the bull, but they're a step in the right direction, and they may shock Congress and the president into more strategic action.
In these polarized political times, Congress and the president failed a test for which they set the boundaries and rules themselves. To their credit, they put in the sequester as a backup.
Maybe Congress and the president should do this more often - set harsh automatic spending cuts if they can't reach a deal.
The military will take half the hit, but that makes sense considering that Americans are trying to extricate this nation from a 10-and-a-half-year state of war and trying to stay out of new conflicts.
In the North Country, it will likely affect hospitals, Fort Drum, the border and the federal prison in Ray Brook. Federal workers will probably be furloughed, losing wages that they would largely spend in their local communities. Federal funding to collaborate with local drug task forces may dry up. While it's true that the North Country doesn't rely economically as much on the federal government as some parts of the country, we'll be paying our fair share for sure.
One group that is, very notably, not paying its fair share is the people whose failure created this situation. Congress members' and the president's pay and benefits will not be affected - no furloughs for them. That's wrong, and very frustrating for the average American.
That's where the bipartisan No Labels group could play a big leadership role. At the top of its agenda is a plan to withhold Congress' pay if it doesn't pass a budget every year. It hasn't in the last four, each of which saw a new trillion-dollar deficit.
Looking ahead, we hope elected national leaders can work out a new normal that's more efficient. We're glad to see the North Country's congressman, Rep. Bill Owens, focus his energy on bipartisan, practical governance rather than ideological warfare. He and the rest of the No Labels group are in the middle of a battle largely being fought with artillery fired from the ends of the political spectrum.
So far in Washington, Democrats have mostly resisted significant cuts to anything but the military, preferring to seek tax increases for the rich. They got those earlier this year; now's the time to turn seriously to the spending problem.
Republicans have hammered on the need for cuts, but only their way - and not for the military. They're following a vision for a new government that Americans, for the most part, aren't ready for.
This is not a time for visionaries, and it's not a time for the status quo, either. It's a time when we need problem solvers.
The sequester is neither party's preferred outcome, but its time has come. If it's a punishment, it's one that has proven to be necessary. Like any effective punishment, we hope the experience jolts elected leaders back on track so they can govern, rather than just campaign all the time.