Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Breaking News: A new Washington blockbuster is set to debut Friday



By James H. Shott

From the people who raised your moral outrage with "Fast and Furious," drove your anger to fever pitch with "Negligence in Benghazi," and left you scratching your head with "Wasting Billions Again in Green Energyville," comes a new, even-bigger blockbuster that threatens to unleash mass chaos across the land: "The Attack of Sequestration!"

Sequestration is a predetermined set of mandatory cuts to defense and domestic spending totaling $965 billion over the next 10 years. The first round of $85 billon automatically takes effect March 1, unless our elected leaders, the stewards of our government, get busy this week.

There is a great deal of political Tomfoolery associated with this looming event, such as the myth that sequestration represents actual cuts to federal spending — it doesn't. The $965 billion total and the $85 billion for this year represent reductions only in budget increases, not cuts in spending. And even if Congress does not stop sequestration, the federal government will spend $2.14 trillion more in 2022 than it does today.

Then the idea that something so tiny in a federal budget so bloated as ours will be calamitous is just silly. The spending for 2013 is estimated at $3.55 trillion — which is $3,550 billion — and $85 billion is just pocket change. In fact, since the fiscal year is already nearly half over, the damage will be less than that.

And then there's President Obama's idiotic scare tactic that teachers, first responders and other important workers will be laid off. As all informed Americans know, school teachers, fire fighters and police officers are state and local employees, not federal workers, so their jobs won't be directly affected by the sequestration, although cutbacks in programs sending money to the states might have an impact.

Over a 10-year period sequestration would reduce proposed spending increases by about 2.5 percent. In practical terms, that means instead of having $100 to spend, government would only have $97.50, a tough situation, perhaps, but certainly not a catastrophe. And given the enormous and dangerous national debt facing us, it's a sacrifice our public servants will just have to cope with.

The president would have us believe that not only was sequestration the idea of Congressional Republicans, but that he was totally against its development. Both assertions are false. According to author Bob Woodward in his recent book "The Price of Politics," the origins of sequestration rest comfortably with then-White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew (he’s the guy Mr. Obama has nominated to run the economy at the Treasury Department) assisted by then-White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors, and was approved for presentation to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by President Obama on July 27, 2011. Mr. Woodward referred to Lew and Nabors as "probably the foremost experts on budget issues in the senior ranks of the federal government," which explains a lot about why we are where we are.

This is no small point. The president has a penchant for laying the blame for his failures on the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress. He cannot run away from this one.

As for the president's strong opposition to the immensely flawed concept, here is what he said on the subject in November of 2011: “Already, some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts. My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts – domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one.”

President Obama either has one of the worst memories of anyone to inhabit the office, or simply does not like the truth.

Clearly, even though the "cuts" the Obama sequestration imposes are too small, given the scope of our fiscal crisis, it is a clumsy tool that cuts spending indiscriminately. Typical of the administration's planning, it was poorly thought out, and was designed as a mechanism to bludgeon Republicans to agreeing to even more tax increases than they agreed to last year.

Because it is a rip saw where a surgical laser is needed, sequestration can do serious damage, but it does not have to. Department heads and military service chiefs should have full discretion to apply cuts where they will do the least harm, something that should not be difficult to accomplish by people dedicated to working to sensibly reduce over-spending.

Vast areas of waste and duplication have been well documented, and total at least twice the amount of this year's cuts. And there are truckloads of failed government programs and projects – like Head Start, putting a muzzle on the Environmental Protection Agency, and doing away with SWAT teams carrying out the work of the Department of Education, the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies that have no business using that kind of force.

Of course, this solution assumes that the elected leaders of our government start doing what is good for the country instead of what benefits them politically. And now is the time for the President of the United States to stop campaigning and finally show some real leadership.

 Cross-posted from Observations

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