Sequestration More Bark Than Bite

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

This week’s news out of Washington will be filled with talk of “Sequestration”.  It is the latest manufactured crisis du jour to ensure Americans who pay little attention to politics and national finances have a headline term to add to their vocabulary to affirm to themselves that they follow politics.

Those that have been paying attention will note that the money that is to be cut from the federal budget is actually savings that have already been claimed by both Republicans and Democrats when they talk of past efforts to reduce the deficit – though both have been quite complicit in ensuring that no monies have actually been reserved to stay in federal coffers.

Sequestration was the construct of the President and the Congress who were seeking to maintain stalemate until the 2012 elections could solve the direction of the country and its fiscal finances.  With the election results giving the country a leadership framework of the status quo, both parties now seek to figure out how to create a path forward that allows their principles to win while not having to eat past rhetoric that doesn’t match the current facts or situation.

Perhaps the best analysis of what we will here this week comes from former Macon Telegraph reporter Travis Fain – now of North Carolina – who tweeted “Few things explain DC paralysis better than leaders arguing over who gets the blame for something they could still prevent.”  Such is the state of Washington politics these days.  The public that is willing to pay attention to these games is so distracted by partisan divide that we are willing to look past the actual facts of the present to project scorn on to the results of the future.

Instead, it is time to take a deep breath and look at where we are, and where we are headed without a change not only in course but in outlook.  The sequestration is scheduled to cut $85 billion out of a proposed $3.7 trillion federal spending for 2013.  It’s incorrect to call this a budget because the President no longer cares about submitting one and the Senate won’t even spend time to mark one up.

If they were to spend time on these things, then surely $85 billion of cuts could be found by reducing the least priority spending items.  Instead, we are forced to watch yet another exercise in bureaucratic self-defense while agencies trot out sacrificial lambs to demonstrate how the public will virtually cease to be able to interact with their government if the beast is not fed its ever increasing appetite.

More troubling is the change in rhetoric of the current fiscal climate.  The president and his Democratic party who spent the entire campaign chiding Republicans for not willing to accept just small amounts of increased tax revenue in exchange for cuts of 2 to 10 times the revenue raised are now not only unwilling to put serious entitlement reform on the table, but appear to not want to cut any area of discretionary spending either.  Their position appears to be that current budget deficits are sustainable – and should even be expanded with new spending.

Republicans, for their part, are demonstrating that it’s easy to talk about cutting a budget but much harder to do so.  The reality of their position is they aren’t looking for real cuts, but appear to be settling into a strategy of reducing the rate of growth of government rather than cutting government.

This isn’t unique.  Instead, it seems to be more of the classic former battle we had during the 1990’s when Democrats changed the language from “tax and spend” to “investing in the future”, and Republicans were labeled obstructionists for shutting the government down when in reality no one ever missed a check from any form of government program or contract.

For all the gnashing of teeth during that era – including the unwise distraction of trying to impeach a President without bipartisan support – the gridlock ended up working.  Government spending flatlined while the economy eventually grew, raising the revenues to close the budget gap.

Those paying attention to the sequestration game looking for a dramatic ending should move along.  The “cuts” lack significant size to make a dent in the overall economic picture.  Instead, holding firm may not fix the deficit problem, but can lead to at least some form of containment while the economy, independent of Washington’s “solution”, fixes itself.


  1. Three Jack says:

    When Bob Woodward speaks….

    The left loved him in the early 70s and during the Bush admin., I guess not so much now that he has taken their president to task.

    Here is Woodward’s fact check of the sequester debate —“Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved.”

    The dems may have stepped in it on this one. Just as they had the huge advantage of being in favor of the sunsetting of Bush tax cuts while negotiating the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ deal, the GOP now has it when it comes to automatic spending cuts. It’s damn difficult to negotiate when one side already has what they want and you’re asking them to give some of it up.

  2. xdog says:

    Gopers are cracking up. Lindsay Graham says increasing taxes (sorry, revenue) is OK. At the same time Rob Johnson says that would be the end of Boehner. Obama doesn’t have another election to prepare for and he’s dug in on that basis. The rest of the donks appear to be cool with that.

    If there’s no deal by the end of March there’s a government shutdown a la 1995. At that time public opinion takes over and it’s game over.

    Meanwhile, where are the defense hawks in all this? I thought the sequestering process was set up to pressure them to give like everyone else.

  3. Scott65 says:

    This debt crisis is completely manufactured. We do not have a debt problem right now. The CBO scored medicare again since ACA went into effect and found 6X the savings as raising the age to 67. This just goes to show that worrying about the budget 10 years from now is a fools errand and boy there are a lot of fools around

  4. John Konop says:

    This thread represents what is wrong in Washington. If congress does not get it together on cuts, ending loopholes and reinvesting into infastructure we will see the impact soon! The market will fall first, than jobs, than spending……. This will effect many of you faster than you think. Being right in your mind, may put you on Kraft Mac and Cheese for all three meals in your car…….at best, unless congress steps up.

  5. Charlie says:

    Simmering Down The Sequester Talk
    By U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA)
    Featured on

    The hysteria in Washington over sequestration is both strange and amusing. The president would like us to believe that cutting just over 2% of our $3.5 trillion budget this year will leave kids without vaccines, meat without inspectors, planes without air traffic control and streets filled with criminals and no police to stop them. Republicans, on the other hand, are wasting time blaming President Obama for spending cuts—yes, the same man who is distinguished as the only president to run a trillion dollar budget deficit, and to do so four years in a row.

    Frankly, the sequester doesn’t do much to stop the growth of spending and government. Let’s say you gain 10 pounds per year, but your 2013 resolution is to only gain 9.8 pounds. You’re not getting smaller; you’re just growing a little slower. The president has chosen to make a mini diet sound apocalyptic, even as our country is nearly $17 trillion in debt.

    From a broader view, with sequestration in effect, overall federal spending this year will still exceed what was spent in 2010. I do not remember the country being on the verge of collapse in 2010 due to a shortage of federal funding. In fact, I remember the American people sweeping Republicans into control of the U.S. House because they were appalled by the president’s gross expansion of government and mismanagement of public finances.

    On average, President Obama spends $1.1 trillion more per year than President George W. Bush. Remember that the Obama Administration dramatically increased federal spending during the financial crisis. The trillion dollar stimulus of 2009 was not timely, targeted or temporary as advertised—it became the status quo. Total federal spending has never declined to pre-stimulus levels. But now, whenever spending reductions come to the fore, the president rolls out scary sounding statistics and warns of grave consequences. We must remember that these inflated funding levels were never supposed to be permanent, and to try to make them so through fear and misinformation is a betrayal of the public trust.

    The deficits and debt from the Obama years are the real danger to our country, particularly to future generations. This year we will lose $224 billion of your tax dollars in debt interest payments to China and elsewhere. That amount is nearly three times the size of the sequester, or the equivalent of what the federal government spends on K-12 education and veterans’ benefits combined. Our debt interest payments are projected increase 200% by the end of the decade. All the Obama tax increases in the world cannot solve such a terrible case of overspending.

    Although the sequester shaves a tiny portion off the federal budget, most agree that the across-the-board method is unwise. It doesn’t make sense to cut valuable military programs and wasteful activities by the same percentage. We should just zero-out, or eliminate, the wasteful programs. I’ve joined House Republicans in passing two bills to make the cuts smarter and targeted, but the president and the Senate Democrats have ignored us, demanding more tax increases on top of the $600 billion plus tax hike they imposed in January.

    The American people should neither be fooled nor bullied by the president’s latest campaign to raid our wallets. You are not the problem. No one should be talking about tax increases when the government wastes $115 billion on improper payments as it did in 2011. No one should demand that you send more of your paycheck to Washington to fund the $2.2 billion federal program for free cell phones. And it is shameful for the president to say Americans do not pay their fair share when the government squanders money on overlapping projects like our 47 different job training programs and 94 different green building initiatives. There is enough federal waste to clog every toilet in Washington.

    It would be a shame to see so much wasteful spending continue as worthy programs get hit by the across-the-board cuts. But, if the president continues to reject a smarter approach and insist on more tax increases, then sequestration will go forward. And, while it’s early yet, I predict the United States will survive the 2% budget cut.

    Tom Graves, a Republican, represents Georgia in Congress and serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

  6. Ghost of William F Buckley says:

    Is it hard to believe virtually all Federally sponsored programs and services devolve?

    “As of Friday, ICE was holding more than 2,000 immigrants in detention centers located in Atlanta, Gainesville, Lumpkin and Ocilla. It costs ICE $164 per day to detain one inmate, compared to between 30 cents and $14 per day for alternatives to detention, according to a report released last year by the Washington-based National Immigration Forum.” Via AJC:

    Georgia is being taken to the whipping post on this.

    Not only NO, but, OH HELL NO!

    Gov. Deal, stand your ground.
    Get off the Federal teat.

    2,000 people released into Georgian communities, mostly non-violent (?), just DUI’s other scofflaws that happen to be here illegally.

    Georgia set up a method to import labor to work in the poultry plants, by damn, we can surely remove the ‘welcome mat.’

    Somebody drop a Bill that allows GA re-locate folks to WDC.

  7. xdog says:

    Gopers are all over the page on this issue. We hear that the Kenyan pretender invented sequestration and that gopers had nothing to do with it, nothing at all. We hear that the process of automatic cuts won’t be painful at all, little more than a caress. We hear that defense is a different story, that it will be gutted and leave our country grievously weakened, not that any donks care, the lousy commies.

    Graves also ignores the fact that sequestration was supposed to be so onerous as to force conflicting parties to make a deal. Where’s his responsibility in not having a deal in place long ago?

    I do appreciate Graves’ courage in mentioning the pinhead Bush, although as expected he stops short of actually condemning past goper policies that lost two wars and put the economy in the crapper. But with Graves’ lead, maybe gopers will find the courage to invite Bush to their convention in a few years, if there’s still a party to convene.

  8. SallyForth says:

    I say let it take effect and somehow struggle through with spending 98% of the projected amount of trillions in spending. After all, the cuts are restricted to discretionary spending only and do not affect necessities at all. If Republicans and Democrats want to do a bipartisan lessening of our run-away spending, here is their chance.

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