Cut government spending, except when I have to wait in line

Cut government spending, except when I have to wait in line April 27, 2013


A number of people in my church have been impacted by the game of chicken known as sequestration that Obama and the Republicans are playing with one another. Almost everyone either works for the civilian sector of the government, a government contractor, or the military. Several people have lost their jobs; many have been furloughed. And that’s why I’m more than a little bit hot about the way that Congress has suddenly bolted in action to exempt the FAA from sequestration rules so that people won’t have to wait in line at airports. It’s an illustration of the uniquely American religious belief in ideology without consequences.

As increasingly we spend our lives more in the virtual world than the physical world, we grow increasingly ignorant of the nuts and gears in the background processes (to use a computer term) that actually run our world. What matters is that traffic keeps on moving and that my life is fast, cheap, and convenient. All of the crutches and puppet strings that make life fast, cheap, and convenient must remain behind the curtain because the engine that drives the whole economy is each American’s delusional belief in his/her own self-reliance.

So our federal government pays Iowa corn farmers to burn their crops rather than oversaturate the market with them. Our state governments have budget crises because they have waived the property taxes of every corporation that has come to their state to “build jobs.” As long as these things remain outside of my peripheral vision, then I can satisfy myself with myths about the magical efficiency of the invisible hand of the market, converting the self-reliant selfishness of millions of people into an altruistic utopia for all.

But God forbid that I should have to wait in line at an airport. The government needs to “make tough choices” and “face the sober truth” about its budgeting, but standing in line for six hours should not happen in a first world country full of self-reliant people like me who would sprout our own wings and jet-packs to fly around the country if we could. Guess what? There are hundreds of other hidden ways that the government touches our lives on a daily basis, but as long as we don’t see the impact of their spending cuts, nobody will complain and those invisible puppet strings will disappear so that something comes crashing down unexpectedly in the far-off future. What if spending cuts subtly erode the quality control in something like our waste-water purification system and we start drinking cancer out of our taps without knowing it? See no evil, hear no evil.

The only thing more irresponsible than making inflexible fixed percentage spending cuts across the board is to make decisions about spending according to the visibility of what’s being cut. The people who are going to get shafted the worst are poor kids from the country, HeadStart and Medicaid and food assistance programs in rural counties in Arkansas and Kansas. Poor kids in the city have more visibility. But the poor kids in the country can just suffer in silence while the rest of us go up and down the escalators at the airports with all the puppet strings and crutches in place that allow us to continue to call ourselves self-reliant and wonder why other people haven’t learned how to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

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  • Ellen

    I agree with you, but one point – the change doesn’t ease the wait through security. It keeps air traffic controllers from being furloughed. The delays are not TSA-related – they are air traffic-related.

  • Steven

    We might not have to cut spending on social needs if we were to curb this…
    “The 2009 U.S. military budget accounts for approximately 40% of global arms spending. The 2012 budget is 6–7 times larger than the $106 billion military budget of China, and is more than the next twenty largest military spenders combined. The United States and its close allies are responsible for two-thirds to three-quarters of the world’s military spending (of which, in turn, the U.S. is responsible for the majority).” -Wikipedia
    Now, if all this war spending is simply a jobs program in disguise, we can do better. There was such a thing as the Civilian Conservation Corp in the ’30’s…

    • I appreciate the idea of cutting military spending, but that will require a massive shift in both US and global thinking. Currently, even with the ridiculous budget, the US military is tremendously overtasked. Burnout, and worse, suicide, are on the rise in all branches. If we want to cut the budget, we must first accept that we will need to massively curtail what we ask our military to be responsible for. And I mean not only military-related responsibilities, but also things like natural disaster response teams. When the tsunami hit in the Pacific, entire Wings in that region deployed for weeks, transporting supplies, aid-workers and corpses for burial. These things take time, money and have a massive psychological price as well. I know individuals who came back from that deployment unable to hear rushing water without breaking out into a sweat. All of this is just to say, yes, it’s a big number, but they do a lot.

      • Morgan Guyton

        Thanks for bringing these things up. It’s important to put flesh on the issue and not just talk in the abstract.

  • thomas

    The consequences of sequestration are very vastly overblown. To borrow from Shakespeare, it’s “much ado about nothing.” Locally some more affected. But contrary to the administration’s Chicken Little routine, the sky is not falling. Of course the faa has like every other fed. agency structured its cuts according to the directions of the administration. After all, they are operated by and serve that administration. It is to be expected. And predictably Congress has acted to force the faa and the administration to act responsibly. Someone has to be responsible when the administration only wants to do kabuki.

    No one argues the interconnectedness of modern life. It is the cost that is at issue. There are to many folks who pay nothing at all yet use all the services of local, state and federal government with the cost being paid by “other people’s money” as well as money borrowed at the expense of our children and grandchildren. Like it or not, there never has been and there never will be a free lunch. It is not delusional to require that everyone pays for what everyone uses at whatever level. It is not delusional to require that the federal government pay as it goes for routine items and that if it cannot not pay, then the item be eliminated. That is common sense. It’s the way normal families stay solvent rather than going bankrupt. It is the sort of common sense that is badly needed at the tax and spend federal level.

    The current resident of the white house came up with his sequestration plan as a way to play chicken with Congress. Now his bluff has been called. There will be very minor cuts across the board without anyone being able to off load mandated cuts in one area to some other area. Fine. Everyone will have to deal with it. That’s no different than when a family has to deal with a drop in real income. Except in this case, it would have been easily avoided. All the administration had to do was actually cut the budget instead of spending more and more of our children’s and grandchildren’s future to buy votes for upcoming elections.

    • Morgan Guyton

      Is any of that original thought or is it all from Fox? The sequestration was deliberately designed to be inflexible. It’s not something Obama has any control over. Budget deficits are the product of both revenue and spending. My kids can’t afford your tax cuts. I don’t know about you but I can’t afford private school for them. I’m just hoping they will still have music and drama classes when they get to high school. All of that stuff is getting cut and its not wasteful spending. When you take things out of the abstract and look at what’s actually getting cut, it’s a different story. All this moralistic “Nobody gets a free lunch” talk only works in complete abstraction.

  • thomas

    Original thought? There is nothing new under the sun.

    As to sequestration, if the current resident of the white house had blinked, he would not now find himself hoisted on his own political petard. It is a mess entirely of his own making. If he had stood by his own proposed $3 in cuts for every $1 in spending increase, this whole business would have long ago been concluded.

    There is a legitimate level of taxes to pay for necessary government services, etc. The ongoing budget debate largely stems from disagreement about what services are necessary at what price. It simply is not possible to provide Cadillac services on a Chevy budget. At all levels of government, taxpayers have the right to require that tax money be spent on legitimate needed services and not simply used to buy votes in upcoming election cycles or else encourage a lifestyle of dependency.

    My children were educated in the local public schools. There were opportunities for drama, art, music and sports. Parents had to work to help make those opportunities possible. Some parents did nothing. Oddly they still expected their children to have the same opportunities. Odd. Very odd indeed. Recently our children graduated from college. My wife and I made hard sacrifices to allow them the opportunity to go to college. That is the responsibility of a parent.

    • Morgan Guyton

      When people blame one side of a dispute entirely, I generally dismiss everything else they have to say as a matter of principle. It’s awfully cynical to say that doing things like defending food stamp and Medicaid recipients is a matter of buying votes. You sure do have a lot of clairvoyance into other peoples’ motives.

  • thomas

    Blame? Sides? The current resident of the white house is rightly to blame fully and completely for the last five years of failure in the exact same way that President Bush was blamed for any and all failures that occurred during his administration. The supposed failure to fix the aftermath of hurricane Katrina is starkly mirrored in the abject failure of the current administration to fix the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. There is no difference at all.

    Vote buying? There is a legitimate rational for a social safety net that is temporary and needs based. There is no legitimate rational for federal programs that historically served to produce generational dependency. The timing of voting on these programs to coincide with election cycles is calculated. Those who benefit from the publicity and outcome of these votes depend on those who vote to keep them in office and in power.

    Cynicism? The failure of the current administration to follow through with promises to protect social security from cuts is a very apt example of cynical politics on parade. Having voted him back into office the needs of those who voted are now simply a bargaining chip used without regard for who gets hurt. To see this does not in any way require anything approaching clairvoyance. It only requires plain common sense and experience.

    • Morgan Guyton

      The Lord be with you.

    • I sort of thought all of those same things and then I read the laws that actually govern how people receive TANF and food stamps. They are not the same laws as they were in the eighties for instance. There is no long-term dependence anymore and most of the families receiving SNAP benefits (around 80%) are working poor, not lay-abouts. I was surprised myself but I feel like I have a little better insight into who is receiving benefits and why and I’m glad I dug in and read through a lot of the regulations.