Two of Alabama’s seven U.S. representatives voted against the deal that created the sequester, and they are getting plenty of political mileage out of their votes as the March 1 deadline approaches.
U.S. Reps. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, and Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, voted against the sequestration deal in August 2011. The other five voted for it.
Brooks and Roby are on the stump, accurately describing how devastating the cuts mandated by the sequester will be for Alabama’s economy. According to a U.S. Army study, the sequester will cost Alabama $1.9 billion and affect more than 25,000 jobs. A Wells Fargo report on the national impact noted Huntsville will be hit especially hard.
As bad as the sequester is, both for Alabama and for a struggling national economy, the crisis the nation faced in 2011 was worse. The U.S. House was threatening to block an increase in the debt ceiling. A refusal to raise the debt ceiling would have prevented Congress from paying the bills it already had incurred.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, accurately explained the consequences of blocking a debt-ceiling increase in early 2011:
“That would be a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy,” Boehner said. “I don’t think it’s a question that’s even on the table.”
On May 31, 2011, President Barack Obama sought an increase in the debt ceiling. All 236 Republicans in the House voted against it. The absolute deadline was Aug. 1. Brooks scoffed at the concern that refusal to raise the debt ceiling would damage U.S. credit.
“There should be no default on August 2,” Brooks said, shortly before a downgrade. “In fact, our credit rating should be improved by not raising the debt ceiling.”
Roby also made clear she was willing to block a debt-ceiling increase, something never before contemplated by a majority party. Congress raised the debt ceiling 18 times under former President Ronald Reagan and seven times under former President George W. Bush. As guardians of the full faith and credit of the United States, all previous House majorities understood the time to bicker about the deficit was during budget negotiations, not after the bills were incurred.
But the 2011 House made clear it was willing to block a debt-limit increase.
Had it done so, the results would have been far more extreme than the sequester scheduled for March 1. Spending cuts would have been much deeper. The United States would have defaulted on its debt payments. A U.S. recession was almost certain; a global one was likely.
To avert the disaster, the administration proposed sequestration. It was basically a “poison pill,” designed to make cuts so politically unattractive it would force both sides to make a good-faith effort at deficit reduction.
Those who understood the disastrous implications of blocking a debt-ceiling increase jumped for the deal. House Republicans approved it by a vote of 174 to 66 on Aug. 1, the last possible day.
Brooks and Roby are congratulating themselves for voting against the sequestration deal, but it was their 2011 rejection of a debt-ceiling increase that made the deal necessary.