The budget cuts designed to be too awful for either party to stomach go into effect today, telling us all we need to know about our politics.

In the weeks leading up to the mandatory across-the-board cuts to defense and domestic spending adding up to $85 billion this year and $1.5 trillion over the next decade, we heard two views of the situation, views that were so different they could have been hatched in alternate universes.

Democrats told us how the cuts would jeopardize our national defense and slow down our economy.

Many Republicans downplayed the effect, saying that they represented only a small slice of spending and, anyway, they are all President Barack Obama’s fault.

Putting aside for now the issue of blame, we can say that the sequester is a big deal.

The sun still will rise and America still will be a great nation, but these cuts will have a negative effect, especially if they are allowed to play out over the years.


This year alone, the cuts would stop $2.7 million in federal funds for Maine schools and another $2.6 million designated for special education programs.

The cuts would furlough 7,000 civilian Department of Defense employees in Maine, taking a huge bite out of local economic activities. If a factory employing 7,000 Mainers locked its doors, no one would deny its big effect on the economy.

The sequester cuts will hurt children who need vaccinations, college students who rely on work-study jobs, law enforcement agencies, public health departments and senior citizen nutrition programs.

And it didn’t have to happen. All that was needed — and the only thing that can keep us from jumping from crisis to crisis — is a bipartisan agreement about how to reduce the deficit.

A compromise won’t look perfect to either side, but it would look much better than the meat ax approach the sequester mandates.

Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have called for such a bipartisan deal, which would have to include both new revenues and reform of entitlement programs, which have powerful supporters.

And even if Congress cannot pass a budget, it at least can pass a full-year defense spending plan that can get long-term plans, such as ship building, safely under way.

The sequester was designed to create an outcome so bad that both parties would be forced to compromise to avoid it. That didn’t happen.

There is a better way to reduce the deficit without doing damage to the economy. The deadline has passed, but there still time to fix this mess.

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