Overdrive Extra

James Jaillet

LaHood’s right — Sequester’s dumb, and we’re doing nothing for our kids

| March 04, 2013

interstate highwayIt couldn’t have been said better, unless he added an expletive.

We reported last week on outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s address to the American Association of State Highways and Transportation Officials, in which, near the end, he makes a plea for bipartisanship for both long-term and short-term gain.

LaHood spoke two days before the sequester — automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to the federal budget — began. That is, unless Congress acted first to get a bill to President Barack Obama to prevent them from occurring.

Congress didn’t, and what we’re left with is, well, dumb.

LaHood said it in his address, as bluntly as he could, “Sequester is a dumb idea.” It didn’t have any fire behind it. It wasn’t meant as a barb toward either major political party. It was as declarative as it could have been. Mellowly declarative, in fact.

And he’s right, sequester is dumb. It was designed to be that way to reach a deal in 2011 to resolve the debt ceiling battle between House Republicans (and some members of the Tea Party) — who were steadfastly not going to raise the debt ceiling — and a Democratic Senate and president.

The cuts were designed to be so dumb, in fact, that surely Congress could come up with something — anything — in a year and a half to replace them.

It didn’t — Jan. 1 was the original date for the cuts set to take place, coupled with across-the-board tax increases — and they even gave themselves two additional months in early January by reaching a deal to avoid the tax increases while punting on the budget cuts.

March 1 was the new date, and, surely, we all thought, that with an additional 60 days a deal could be reached.

It wasn’t. And “dumb” is what we’re left with. There’s no better way to put it.

More than pointing out the obvious on sequestration, though, LaHood made a challenge to AASHTO, and it’s one we should all take to heart: “We must put aside our differences and give our kids and our grandkids a country that’s better than the one we left. We inherited the interstate system, thanks to generations of people with foresight. What are we going to leave the next generation?”

We were left much — very, very much — by the generations before us, and all we’re doing to fulfill our obligations to the generations after us is coming up with dumb cuts, kicking cans down a street and squabbling like children over budget policy.

Do you think there’s any way we could accomplish something like building an Interstate system with the political climate that’s been created the last 10 years?

There’s absolutely no way. And that’s why we should take seriously LaHood’s challenge. No matter your views on him and his time as transportation secretary, it’s hard to argue that our goal should be to leave this place better than we left it.

At the rate we’re going, we’re not even going to leave it as good as we found it. We’re also going to be a laughing stock to our children and their children. The generation that inherited great advancements in transportation — like the Interstate system — and failed to not only build upon them but even bother enough to take care of them.

That’s not the case yet, but we need to make sure it never is. Interstates allowed trucking to thrive, to overtake rail as the best form of moving goods around the country. We need to take care of them, and we need to build upon them.

Blindly slashing a budget is dumb. More than that, it sets us back and prevents us from taking care of ourselves and our future. Congress should be ashamed it let it happen.

And we should remember in 2014.

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