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Washington, it’s past time to make a deal

Sure, the Obama administration played politics just days before a Friday deadline by releasing a state-by-state analysis of how across-the-board cuts – namely, the sequester – are likely to hurt.

North Carolina faces an estimated $309 million in cuts. On the hit-list? $141 million slashed from Army and Navy base operations, $117 million in payroll cuts for civilian Department of Defense employees and $42 million from public schools.

Yes, conservative critics dispute the breadth of those figures. Yet this week in Washington, even GOP governors at the National Governors Association meeting were lamenting the impact. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, whose state faces big job losses from the sequester, urged congressional Republicans and Democrats to restart talks with President Obama about how to replace the sequester.

Even our own N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, who unwisely turned away millions in federal funds by signing a flawed unemployment insurance bill and rejecting Medicaid expansion, expressed worry. He told MSNBC Sunday that “North Carolina has five major military bases, so we’re extremely concerned about sequestration.”

We hope the pleas against indiscriminate chain-sawing of federally funded programs reach needed ears. This dead-man’s switch can and should be avoided. If pulled, many economists say, the cuts will be a drag on the fragile U.S. economy and will impose hardships.

It should never have come to this. The Obama White House proposed sequester as a fail-safe against lack of action by a bipartisan congressional “Super Committee” to reach a deficit reduction agreement. That committee was created by the 2011 Budget Control Act when House Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless entitlement programs were cut as part of a deficit reduction plan.

In the blame game Republicans and Democrats are engaging in, both sides are dirty. The White House proposed the sequester but Republicans helped forge the plan and supported it. At the time, both thought it was insanity. Neither side believed things would come to this.

Alas, this is Washington. Insanity rules.

But there are alternatives to stalemate. Erskine Bowles, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, and former GOP senator Alan Simpson, offered one last week. Their new plan reduces the deficit by $2.4 trillion over the next decade. It has concessions for conservatives and liberals. It’s the balanced approach lawmakers should seek.

It proposes targeted cuts and overhauls that won’t disrupt economic growth. It includes no sharp austerity measures and rejects cutting low-income programs. But it does support entitlement reform, spending limits and overhauling the tax code, including lowering the marginal tax rates for individuals and corporations.

Yes, Bowles and Simpson are the same team that headed the president’s 2010 fiscal commission that recommended $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade – a plan that Obama wouldn’t embrace and that Republicans on the commission shot down.

But the specter of real harm to constituents could – and should – change some minds. Sequester is wrong and wrong-headed. Americans want a deal. Congress and the president should make one.

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