Framing Sequestration

According to Dr. Paul M. Johnson, sequestration  is the withholding of funds from government agencies by the US Treasury that exceed a cap set in current law. The effect is to limit the funds available to Federal agencies.

In today’s sequestration debate, the process is being used to automatically cut government spending nearly across the board. George Lakoff points out that, although the current sequestration was intended to be distasteful to liberals and conservatives alike, it serves a major goal of extreme conservatives: “maximal elimination of the public sphere”.

Even though it looks likely that a deal reducing sequestration cuts for two years will pass Congress, sequestration isn’t going away. Therefore, it’s important that progressives reframe this debate so that Americans can see what’s immoral about this budget-slashing.

A great place to start is to talk about progressive views of government and public resources, which are under attack everywhere. Dr. Lakoff sums it up like this:

The public sector makes business, the nonprofit sector, and family life possible. Eroding the public sector puts all of these at risk.
The public sector makes business, the nonprofit sector, and family life possible. Eroding the public sector puts all of these at risk.

Progressives tend to believe that democracy is based on citizens caring for their fellow citizens through what the government provides for all citizens — public infrastructure, public safety, public education, public health, publicly-sponsored research, public forms of recreation and culture, publicly-guaranteed safety nets for those who need them, and so on. In short, progressives believe that the private depends on the public, that without those public provisions Americans cannot be free to live reasonable lives and to thrive in private business. They believe that those who make more from public provisions should pay more to maintain them.

I’ll add (as Lakoff has elsewhere) that from a progressive perspective, protection of citizens’ rights, health, safety, and opportunity to prosper is a moral mission of government in a democratic society. Shirking these responsibilities is wrong and deprives citizens of our right to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

After framing government in terms of progressive values, it’s time to reframe what is now known as “the sequester.” This term makes it sound like the issue is dollars. The same is true for budget cuts and automatic spending cuts. Talking about money keeps the focus on the conservative narrative of out-of-control government spending. Progressives should avoid such language and frame the issue as the government’s responsibility to protect Americans’ lives, liberty, and wellbeing.

I’m not sure what phrase should replace “the sequester” and would love to hear your suggestions. Here are some ideas:

  • budget cuts for the 99% but not the 1%
  •  the shirking (e.g. “We cannot allow the shirking to continue because Americans’ lives, freedom, and wellbeing are in the balance.”
  •  irresponsible
  •  billionaire’s budget
  •  the increasing-inequality budget
  •  the inequality budget

What do you think?

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