Barring any last minute "miracles" to call off this Congress-inflicted fiasco, automatic federal budget cuts will kick in. The reductions total $1.2 trillion spread over nine years. The first cuts will be $85 billion by the end of September.

The phenomenon is, in an unfortunate collision of federal budgeting terminology and real life, known as "sequestration." The money in the budget is set aside, hidden, removed - sequestered.

I don't have faith that Congress will get its act together. I hope I'm proved wrong. But I also hope that Aretha Franklin will stop by my house to hang out. I'm not holding my breath.

The sequester was created through an agreement between the White House and Congress after lawmakers couldn't come to a budget agreement. They pushed back the deadline and added a raft of worst-case-scenario budget cuts that would be triggered if no action was taken. The mistaken assumption was that no elected official - Republican or Democrat - would ever let these cuts go into effect.

It's like in college when I decided to quit smoking not by not buying cigarettes, but by switching to a brand I didn't like. Yeah, I smoked those for another couple of years until I stopped letting myself off the hook. The only way to stop is to stop.

This sequestration dance demonstrates so clearly the pomposity of power. It comes at the direct expense of Americans who need to work so they can pay for housing, food, school, medical care. Maybe go to a movie once in a while. Americans whose work, unlike that of many members of Congress of late, actually provides a useful service.

Arizona's chunk of the sequester is more than $30 million, much of it money from schools. The defense budget gets whacked, too, including contracts, and that means big money for Arizona. Then there's lower pay for Border Patrol agents, and fewer vaccines available.

But why should we little people fret?

Don't we know that this is a Principled Philosophical Stand and that the Republicans are righteously trying to teach us a lesson? Who cares that economists, business leaders, governors (including Republicans) and myriad others are desperately trying to warn Republican lawmakers off this dangerous path - but they choose to believe otherwise.

Which brings me to the Great Grass Seed Incident.

It was the mid-1970s in the Yellow Room at the church preschool in suburban St. Louis. Cubbyholes for coats, teachers in appliquéd sweaters, the occasional ants-in-the-lunchbox surprise.

Todd and I were more preschool associates than friends. He had to be right. Always.

We'd gathered around our pint-sized tables, handling fragile empty eggshells with their tops removed, creating delicate receptacles. We spooned in soil, being so careful, and sprinkled in grass seeds. Patted the soil gently, put the egg back in the cartoon that would sit in the classroom window.

"I'm going to eat the grass seeds." Todd grabbed a big pinch and opened his mouth. He paused for a reaction. "Grass is going to grow in my tummy."

"No it's not."

(I'm sure Todd remembers me, if he does at all, as the little blond killjoy in saddle shoes.)

"Yes it is. I'm going to grow grass in my tummy."

"There's no dirt inside you. There's no sun."

"Yes there is."


Todd swallowed the seeds. He was going to prove himself right. And, of course, grass did not grow in, or out of, his tummy or anywhere else. (The digestive process breaks down all seeds before they could germinate, by the way.)

But Todd wanted to believe. And he wanted impress his preschool brethren with his bravery. He was going to show us. Even when it didn't make sense. That's probably why his fruitless attempt at a horticultural miracle sticks in my mind.

Preschoolers aren't yet developed enough to see much past snack time, or to predict and appreciate the results of their actions. We expect more from elected officials. They're grown up enough to reach the bathroom sink without a step stool. Maybe they even remember to floss. But it doesn't mean they're up to the job of running the country.

Responsible people don't intentionally harm others. Responsible people don't drive the national economic bus into a soggy ditch on purpose and then bluster on about how the bus, and everyone on it, is sinking and how that's good.

And yes, I'm talking about the hard-right Republicans here, those determined to believe, despite ample evidence to the contrary, that you can take money out of the economy and cut jobs without any negative effect.

Democrats are not without responsibility in this mess, but that burden is not equally distributed. The debt and deficit must be addressed, and that has to include changes to entitlement programs and by increasing revenue. But this is not the way to do it.

So when Republicans say that these budget cuts are for our own good, and that we should believe them because they say so, remember Todd.

Remember the boy who believed, because he wanted it to be true, that grass seeds could grow in his tummy.

Then think about reality. You can't sequester the truth.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Her column runs Thursdays. Email her at