According to Politico, America is suddenly super-interested in "sequestration" -- what it is and what it means for their lives -- now that the election is over. See, people are now on the teevee, talking about the so-called "fiscal cliff" that's looming, and so everyone is at home Googling the phrase "What is sequestration" now that they no longer have to Google "Who is running for President" to find out who was running for President.

Per Politico:

The topic of sequestration was helped into mainstream consciousness by President Barack Obama’s and Speaker John Boehner’s public remarks on the fiscal cliff. But until Election Day, most voters were confused on the issue.

“I think a lot of people are still uninformed about sequestration. It’s a long word. It’s a complicated process,” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) told Politico. He and his fellow defense advocates had long worried over the past year that the wonkiness of the issue would prevent more people outside Washington from appreciating what was at stake.

Well then, let's see if we can make the matter of sequestration less long, complicated, and wonky, shall we?

What is sequestration? When people talk about sequestration, or "sequester cuts," in this context, they are referring to a series of draconian budget cuts, totalling $1.2 trillion, that are scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2013. These cuts are evenly split between defense and domestic discretionary spending (with some exemptions, such as Social Security, Medicare, and veterans' benefits).

That sounds familiar, but I mainly recall this being discussed in terms of pending cuts to the military. Yes. That's because the defense industry is massive and they loudly lobby the government and complain about the cuts. "Discretionary domestic spending" refers to "government programs for poor and vulnerable citizens" and they have do not have as equally powerful lobbies or the same kind of access to legislators. Nevertheless, everyone agrees that these cuts would be terrible. (Which is, in a sense, a good thing, because suddenly we have the dyed-in-the-wool deficit crackpots acknowledging the laws of Keynesian gravity.)

If everyone agrees that these cuts would be terrible, why were they scheduled to happen at the end of the year? The reason we are facing the sequestration is because the "Super Committee" that was formed to come up with $1.2 trillion of more carefully targeted spending cuts failed to do its one job. The irony is that at the time of the Super Committee's formation, it was widely believed that the sequestration was an awesome idea that would totally guarantee the Super Committee's success. By hanging the sequestration over everyone's heads like the Sword of Damocles, they reasoned, the members of the Super Committee would be Super Motivated to reach a Super Agreement. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) heralded the sequestration as a victory of bipartisanship and a welcome change in Congress' culture.

Well, why didn't it work? Because the Super Committee was populated with "members of Congress" and "members of Congress" are hollow and cowardly and remembered that an alternative option to "successfully reaching a deal" was "failing to reach a deal and then reneging on their previous agreement to face the agreed-to consequences."

Sounds like all of this was doomed to failure from the outset. Yes. I could have warned you that this was going to happen. The Super Committee should have just skipped over the parts where they pretended to care about reaching a deal and gone right to the part where they failed miserably and thus saved everyone some time. It's a failure that's been repeating itself for the past few years. Prior to the Super Committee, we had the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which was essentially tasked with solving the same problem, and essentially failed in the same spectacular way. And the only reason we had the Simpson-Bowles Commission was because President Obama had to create it after the GOP co-sponsors of a Senate bill that would empanel a congressional deficit commission bailed on the measure at the last minute.

So what happens now? Well, the facts that Obama won reelection and Democrats have padded their numbers in the House and Senate have altered the calculus somewhat, providing the White House with deal-making leverage that it didn't previously enjoy. It remains an open question whether the GOP will recognize that leverage and cut a deal, but there are signs of a thaw. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for instance, has offered to help craft a compromise if Obama will agree to "say yes to Simpson-Bowles." The implication there is that the GOP is open to tax increases, but it should be met with some skepticism. (It is likely, for example, that Graham doesn't understand that "Simpson-Bowles" begins with the assumption that the Bush-era tax cuts on upper-income earners have been ended, and that once he realizes this he will do what he always does and blow up the promised agreement.)

So, the big takeaway is that we should never do this again? Should we trust Congress when they say they will meet in a committee to draw up substantial spending cuts? Going forward, it's going to be hard to do so. The good news, however, is that if we can avoid the nonsensical level of fiscal austerity that the sequestration is threatening, Congress can start work on a more critical, near-term project that I like to call "ameliorating the negative effects of that gigantic financial collapse that happened four years ago." Getting the long-term budget trajectory in line is something that can be safely put off until after we've solved the unemployment and foreclosure crisis, and we'll have already gotten a good head-start on that once the Clinton-era tax rate levels on upper-income earners are restored. This is what the American people want Congress to do anyway -- as usual, they do not give a tinned turd about the deficit.

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  • Maine vs. Northern Massachusetts

    Republican Maine State Rep. Henry Joy brought forth <a href="http://www.asmainegoes.com/content/rep-joy-proposes-plan-divide-maine-two-states" target="_hplink">legislation</a> in 2010 to divide northern and southern Maine into two autonomous states. According to Joy, the move was necessary because of a <a href="http://www.restore.org/Maine/overview.html" target="_hplink">proposal</a> that would have turned millions of acres of northern woodland into a nature preserve, leading to the forced relocation of residents in the area. While that measure never passed, Joy was apparently not keen on the prospect of being removed from his home turf. Joy's bill, which eventually <a href="http://failuremag.com/index.php/failure_analysis/article/proposal_to_divide_maine_into_2_states_fails/" target="_hplink">failed</a>, would have allowed the northern portion of the state to retain the name Maine, while the southern section would have been ordained Northern Massachusetts. Joy proposed <a href="http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2005/02/27/maines_split_personality/" target="_hplink">similar legislation</a> in 2005, which also failed.

  • Utah

    Democratic Utah State Rep. <a href="http://congress.org/congressorg/bio/id/8481" target="_hplink">Neal Hendrickson</a> submitted legislation in 2008 for the <a href="http://le.utah.gov/~2008/bills/hbillint/hjr006.htm" target="_hplink">creation of a new state within Utah</a>. Hendrickson contended that "citizens in the more populated areas of northern Utah have many interests that stand in stark contrast to the interests of southern rural areas of the state, which feel they do not have the influence on state policymaking that citizens along the Wasatch Front enjoy." His bill, which he said would "provide the citizens of what is presently southern Utah increased access to their state government," didn't pass.

  • The Republic Of Texas

    When Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2009/04/15/37587/perry-texas-secession/" target="_hplink">signed</a> onto a non-binding resolution claiming constitutional overreach of the federal government in 2009, some may have thought it was simply a symbolic display meant to show solidarity with a right-wing base disgruntled after the passage of President Barack Obama's stimulus package. A day later, however, Perry took his rhetoric to another level, implying that Texas might <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/15/gov-rick-perry-texas-coul_n_187490.html" target="_hplink">secede</a> if "Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people," by strapping his state with unsustainable taxation, spending and debt.

  • Tennessee

    Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), a Republican primary candidate for governor, piggy-backed off Texas Gov. Rick Perry's secession comments last year, <a href="http://hotlineoncall.nationaljournal.com/archives/2010/07/health_care_law.php" target="_hplink">telling</a> <i>Hotline on Call</i> in a discussion about federal mandates in the health care law that states such as Tennessee might be "forced to consider separation from this government" depending on the outcome of the elections. Wamp eventually <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/governor-races/112993-rep-wamp-loses-gov-primary-to-mayor-haslam-" target="_hplink">lost</a> the gubernatorial primary to Knoxville mayor and eventual winner Bill Haslam.

  • Delmarva

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  • New York

    Lawmakers across New York have long floated secession as a potential way to rectify what they see as imbalances in the burdens of taxes and other economic factors. From <a href="http://www.nysun.com/blogs/culture-of-congestion/2008/01/secession-new-york-city-as-polis.html" target="_hplink">local proposals</a> to split New York City off into its own state, to pushes to turn <a href="http://www.ppinys.org/reports/2004/letupstate.pdf" target="_hplink">upstate New York</a> or <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/22/nyregion/22secede.html" target="_hplink">Long Island</a> into their own sovereign entities, all efforts at secession have failed.

  • Block Island

    The tiny Rhode Island enclave of Block Island made a stir in the 1980s when its residents pursued secession after <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20088188,00.html" target="_hplink">being invaded</a> by a population of moped-riding mainlanders. The state senate and supreme court initially refused to allow the island's governing body to regulate the offending mopeds, which resulted in a <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20088188,00.html" target="_hplink">successful vote</a> to declare independence from the rest of Rhode Island. Massachusetts and Connecticut <a href="http://www.projo.com/specials/century/month10/02733011.htm" target="_hplink">reportedly</a> reached out during the process in the interest of annexing the island. Weeks later, the Rhode Island legislature <a href="http://www.projo.com/specials/century/month10/02733011.htm" target="_hplink">approved a bill</a> giving Block Island regulatory control over mopeds on the island, which sufficiently appeased residents.

  • West Virginia

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