When the worst case is that nothing bad happens

Charles Krauthammer is another candidate for best sequester commentary:

“The worst-case scenario for us,” a leading anti-budget-cuts lobbyist told The Post, “is the sequester hits and nothing bad really happens.”

Think about that. Worst case? That a government drowning in debt should cut back by 2.2 percent — and the country survives. That a government now borrowing 35 cents of every dollar it spends reduces that borrowing by two cents “and nothing bad really happens.” Oh, the humanity!

A normal citizen might think this a good thing. For reactionary liberalism, however, whatever sum our ever-inflating government happens to spend today (now double what Bill Clinton spent in his last year) is the Platonic ideal — the reduction of which, however minuscule, is a national calamity.

Or damn well should be. Otherwise, people might get the idea that we can shrink government and live on.

Hence the president’s message. If the “sequestration” — automatic spending cuts — goes into effect, the skies will fall. Plane travel jeopardized, carrier groups beached, teachers furloughed. And a shortage of junk-touching TSA agents.

The Obama administration has every incentive to make the sky fall, lest we suffer that terrible calamity — cuts the nation survives. Are they threatening to pare back consultants, conferences, travel and other nonessential fluff? Hardly. It shall be air-traffic control. Meat inspection. Weather forecasting.

A 2011 Government Accountability Office report gave a sampling of the vastness of what could be cut, consolidated and rationalized in Washington: 44 overlapping job training programs, 18 for nutrition assistance, 82 (!) on teacher quality, 56 dealing with financial literacy, more than 20 for homelessness, etc. Total annual cost: $100 billion-$200 billion, about two to five times the entire domestic sequester.

Are these on the chopping block? No sir. It’s firemen first. That’s the phrase coined in 1976 by legendary Washington Monthly editor Charlie Peters to describe the way government functionaries beat back budget cuts. Dare suggest a nick in the city budget, and the mayor immediately shuts down the firehouse. The DMV back office, stacked with nepotistic incompetents, remains intact. Shrink it and no one would notice. Sell the firetruck — the people scream and the city council falls silent about any future cuts.

After all, the sequester is just one-half of 1 percent of GDP. It amounts to 1.4 cents on the dollar of nondefense spending, 2 cents overall.

Because of this year’s payroll tax increase, millions of American workers have had to tighten their belts by precisely 2 percent. They found a way. Washington, spending $3.8 trillion, cannot? If so, we might as well declare bankruptcy now and save the attorneys’ fees. . . .

Obama’s incentive to deliberately make the most painful and socially disruptive cuts possible (say, oh, releasing illegal immigrants from prison) is enormous. And alarming.

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    Krauthammer’s commentary is extremely misleading.

    Are these on the chopping block? No sir. It’s firemen first… Obama’s incentive to deliberately make the most painful and socially disruptive cuts possible…is enormous.

    The cuts in sequester were both highly specific and highly senseless by design. The whole point of the sequester was to create an arbitrary, senseless doomsday scenario of spending cuts that nobody liked in order to create an incentive for everybody to cooperate on a more constructive alternative.

    This kind of chopping block also happens to have been a policy tool invented by Republicans, not by liberals as Krauthammer implies.

    Furthermore, whatever Obama’s “incentives”, he actually has very little leeway in terms of opting for more- or less-painful cuts. The Budget Control Act is very specific about how cuts must be made on a per-program level, and nearly all the sequestration cuts will be implemented through the normal legislative process –i.e. Congress will have to write appropriations bills to remain within the newly reduced caps.

  • Abby

    “Obama’s incentive to deliberately make the most painful and socially disruptive cuts possible (say, oh, releasing illegal immigrants from prison) is enormous. And alarming.”

    That’s really the problem. The manipulation by the President that will happen. Who in the world cannot live by cutting 3 cents of expenditure out of every dollar?! They should get bold and cut 10 cents! Then we would have weeping and gnashing of teeth! Wow, are we spoiled or what? Everyone — just think how our grandparents lived and breathed to build this country. They had virtually nothing that we have now. And I never heard all this wailing over the government to provide them with everything material. They just kept working hard, going to church, and raising their families.

    Must be the Devil’s end is coming around the corner — he is really piling on the wealth and corruption.

  • DonS

    Spending has increased $1 trillion since FY 2007. That is a real spending increase of 37% in six years, or an average of about 6% per year, during a period where inflation ran about 2% per year and population grew at a rate of less than 1% per year. Obviously, we have a spending problem.

    The defect in the sequester is that it excluded the real problem — entitlement spending — which is devouring our budget and bankrupting our kids. We shouldn’t take any part of the sequester cuts back — we simply need far, far more, including an intelligent approach to weaning ourselves from automatic entitlement formulas. A present Congress has no right to obligate a future Congress for spending it has not pre-funded, and none of our future entitlement spending is pre-funded, because we have looted the alleged “trust funds” and replaced them with IOU’s, signed by our kids.

    Obviously, given the selfish nature of our present population, and the solicitous nature of the vast majority of our political class toward this selfishness, we are not going to be able to accomplish what we should accomplish — ridding ourselves of automatic entitlement spending in favor of having each Congress appropriate a pool of money for welfare spending or actually pre-funding and then not invading the trust funds. So, in the interim, we should reduce COLA’s, increase eligibility ages, and means test benefits, while otherwise ordering spending priorities to bring the budget into balance. No whining. Let’s do it for the sake of our kids.

  • helen

    Do you suppose we could require those paying income tax at “capital gains” rates to pony up like the rest of us, “for the sake of our kids”?
    And surely you could think of a few more items that would hit the multi millionaires instead of the retirees whose interest income has become near invisible? Bernanke has already socked it to them, but apparently most of you are too well off to notice….

    Social security was doing alright, till somebody decided to conceal general fund spending with it.
    Tax cuts do not fund wars. Who decided we could have both (with most of the loot going to the 1%?)

  • Kirk

    @helen

    Because blah blah blah job creators!

  • DonS

    And there, @ 5, is a great example of the economic illiteracy we face in our society today, and the reason why we apparently can’t help but bankrupt our kids, and tax away any possibility of restoring good middle class jobs in our economy.

  • Kirk

    @6

    Yes, it’s economic illiteracy to say that it’s inequitable to tax capital gains at 15-20% while taxing small business owners in excess of 35%. Because capital investments create more jobs than actual business owners, I guess…

  • DonS

    Kirk @ 7: I agree with you that it is dumb to tax small business owners at 35% or higher. It’s dumb to tax business at all. It’s double taxation which retards investment and growth — taxes should be applied only when the business distributes its profits to principals or shareholders.

    Taxing long-term capital gains at ordinary income rates, especially when a major portion of the gains are typically simply inflation, is also dumb. Investment is the lifeblood of a growing economy, and it is important to ensure that investors are free to move their money to productive uses, rather than tying them up in old investments because they don’t want to lose 40 or 50% of their gains to the tax man.

  • reg

    Don and Kirk,
    The line ” It’s dumb to tax business at all. It’s double taxation” or that small businesses are taxed at a 35% rate is a canard. Most small businesses are sub-S corps and the income is taxed only once at the owner level. Similarly for small corps that distribute all of their profit at the end of each year such as a professional services corp. So simply to repeat a Republican/Foxnews talking point as fact is not particularly helpful.
    Helen,
    Yes I agree, We need the Buffet rule. Income over $1 million should be taxed at a minimum 30% rate regardless of its source.
    Bring on Simpson Bowles. Cuts and revenues!

  • Abby

    Consumerism: The Musical

  • Patrick Kyle

    Deck Chairs on the Titanic. The sequester is chump change compared to the budget.

    http://www.market-ticker.org/akcs-www?blog=Market-Ticker&page=2

  • DonS

    reg @ 9: Hmm. A canard? What, have they repealed the business tax? Have I missed something? C-corporations no longer exist? You do realize that S-corps are limited to 100 shareholders, a single class of stock, and can have no foreign ownership? Many, many small businesses (defined as fewer than 500 employees by the SBA) are C-corps. Obviously, you watch to much MSNBC and pay attention to too many Democratic talking points ;-).

    Besides, taxing S-corp owners at greater than 35%, through the personal tax schedule, is also dumb. For the same reasons. It kills investment, and it kills jobs.

    Simpson-Bowles was a worthy approach. It’s too bad Obama killed it.


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