“The government wants you to be scared. They want everybody to be scared to speak out. They count on it.”
—Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison in JFK
Once again I see Obama and the Democrats have managed to set up yet another straw man “crisis” over which to cry panic and threaten to blame Republicans if they don’t capitulate.
First it was the 30 million—no, 40 million—no, 50 million—“Americans” who were without health insurance and therefore would surely die in the streets if we didn’t pass Obamacare immediately. Of course, as we’re now finding out what’s really in it, it turns out a lot of people aren’t going to be covered, and a lot more people are going to lose their jobs (and still not be covered). Premiums under the “Affordable Care Act” are likely to become less affordable, and the plan that the President swore he wouldn’t sign if it added “one dime to the deficit” we’re learning will in fact add hundreds of billions of dollars. You’ll be able to keep your coverage if you like it—except when you won’t. And in the most ironic twist of all, people in uber-blue California are now finding out that not only may they well not be able to keep their doctor, in some instances they may not get a doctor at all.
Then there were the series of debt ceiling scares and the “fiscal cliff,” where we all would surely die in the streets if we didn’t immediately raise the District’s ability to borrow yet trillions more, and raise taxes (only on “millionaires and billionaires,” of course). As a result, the debt limit (predictably followed soon thereafter by the debt itself) has risen from $14.3 trillion in 2011, to $14.7 trillion, then $15.4 trillion, to its current level of $16.2 trillion.
There’s a reason blitzing is effective in football. Human beings forced to make snap decisions under duress make mistakes. That’s Obama’s and the Democrats’ gambit with the never-ending series of “crises”: it allows them to force through under the guise of necessary emergency action measures they could never get under the crucible of sober debate and reflection.
The latest iteration of these self-made imminent catastrophies is the budget “sequestration” that is to kick in automatically under the Budget Control Act of 2011 if the Congress doesn’t reach a deal to identify $1.2 trillion in spending cuts by March 1. Recall that this was just another chapter of the illusory give-us-a-revenue-increase-now-and-we’ll-(snicker)-agree-on-spending-cuts-later game the Democrats have been playing for decades. In this particular instance, the idea was to permit an increase in the debt ceiling, and use this threat of a very dire sounding “automatic” sanction to provide an incentive for both sides to reach an agreement.
The problem, however, is Obama and the Democrats never intended to agree on any spending cuts; what they wanted was a stick that sounded drastic that they could then pound on the table and scream about all the horribles that would happen unless the Republicans stopped their “rigid ideology and partisan politics” (read: give in to everything the Democrats demand). And, right on cue, the President is out there today signing chapter and verse on how terrible and unfair it’s going to be if the sequestration cuts come to pass:
“These cuts are not smart. They are not fair. They will hurt our economy. They will add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls. This is not an abstraction; people will lose their jobs.”
Never mind that the whole sequestration concept actually came from the White House in the first place. Once the crisis is upon us, it’s forgotten who is actually its source.
Now, I must admit the idea of cutting the budget by $1.2 trillion sounds drastic to John Q. Public, and thus Obama’s prophesy seems dire indeed. But here’s the dirty little secret:
They’re not cutting one thin dime from federal spending, even if sequestration comes to pass.
The automatic sequestration doesn’t cut $1.2 trillion right now. It cuts that sum over ten years, meaning it averages a reduction of $120 billion in a given year. For 2013, the cut is $85 billion, but let’s assume for a second it was a straight-line $120 billion. Federal spending for 2012 was $3.6 trillion. For 2013, it is anticipated to run $3.8 trillion. That’s a $200 billion increase from 2012 to 2013. If the sequestration took effect and imposed a $120 billion cut, that’s still less than the anticipated increase in federal spending. In other words, even with sequestration, federal spending in 2013 will still be $80 billion more than it was in 2012. They’re not cutting spending, they’re just increasing spending at a slower rate.
Further, as you listen to the President’s shrill warnings of impending disaster, let’s look at what the relative magnitude of sequestration really is. Even if we give the President the benefit of the doubt and accept that sequestration represents an actual cut in spending—which it doesn’t, as I’ve just demonstrated—consider that a $120 billion cut in a $3.8 trillion budget represents a total reduction of just 3.2%. If we use the actual $85 billion in cuts that sequestration would trigger for 2013, it’s a 2.2% reduction.
Are you kidding me? Are you telling me we can’t survive even a 2-3% reduction in federal spending without inciting an economic catastrophe?
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is running around claiming that the federal government doesn’t have a spending problem. Respectfully, Ms. Pelosi, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. The fact of the matter is that the 2013 projected spending in constant 2005 dollars is about $3.2 trillion. With the exceptions of 2010 and 1993, that spending level—again, in constant dollars, meaning this isn’t simply the effect of inflation—has risen every single year since 1988. During that time, federal spending has doubled. To put that in perspective, the U.S. population in 1988 was 244 million; at 313 million today, it has increased by a little more than 25% over the same period. Since 1972, federal spending in constant 2005 dollars has tripled, while the population increased less than 50%.
This is the problem. It’s not priorities, and it’s not that we don’t tax ourselves enough. When all you do is tax, tax, tax, and borrow, borrow, borrow without ever doing something meaningful to scale back your outlays, you’re not addressing the problem. And we can’t continue like this indefinitely.
I submit that sequestration is a false boogeyman. There’s nothing to be afraid of, except that it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.