The Sequester: It’s not the amount, it’s the method

The sequester officially went into effect at midnight yesterday, as the President signed the order mandating it.  Addicting Info has an interactive map up to show what your state will be losing in 2013, because of the cuts in federal spending this year.  If you read through various comment boards, particularly the ones with a lot of “conservatives,” you’d come away with the impression that these will just mean some “wasteful” spending will be cut.  You even see it with many of the supposedly “informed” pundits.   After all, it’s only 85 billion, right?  The real issue they overlook is something the President said in his press conference: “”We will get through this,” he said. “This is not going to be an apocalypse, I think, as some people have said. It’s just dumb. And it’s going to hurt.”   Why is it dumb?

The answer is not in the amount.  That would be painful regardless, even ignoring that we are still coming out of a recession.  It’s in how those cuts are being made.

According to the explicit language of the budget act (and of the interpretation laid down by the Office of Management and Budget), the Pentagon’s managers are not allowed to pick and choose which programs to cut. That is, they’re not allowed to do what managers are supposed to do in these situations—set priorities, make trade-offs, and align strategy with resources.

Rather, every single program, project, and activity—every line item in the Pentagon budget, from the biggest weapon system to the smallest spare part—has to be cut by that same 9 percent. Not 10 percent or 8 percent or 20 percent or 2 percent (even if it might make more sense to cut some of them by these larger or smaller numbers), but rather by 9 percent.

I bolded the key sentence.  This is why “it’s dumb.”  This is why there’s a major failure on the part of the media to adequately inform the public.  The President has been doing so, but the media “analysts” have been busily promoting the “both sides” talk, and failing to look at the details.   Too many are under the impression that these cuts are surgical in nature, that they’re just going to force various administrators to make decisions, when in reality that capability for making those decisions have been removed by the language of the legislation.

This is like saying “I need to lose some weight,” and instead of changing my diet, cutting out some foods, and exercising more, I just lop off a leg.  Yes, I will have lost weight, but it wouldn’t be conducive to a better quality of life.    As I said in a previous post, the effects of the cuts won’t be felt immediately.  It takes time for them to roll out, and the impact (and pain) will be drawn out.  But in some cases, the impacts are already being felt, and it’s a lesson.

“Small businesses are telling us that their government contracts are either frozen, not being renewed or canceled in anticipation of budget cuts,” said Kelly Manning, state director of the Colorado Small Business Development Center network.

Colorado Springs is dominated by military installations. These include Fort Carson — the third-largest army base in the country — Peterson Air Force Base and the United States Air Force Academy.

About half of the area’s nearly 20,000 small businesses are subcontractors, contractors or vendors that work on military and other federal and state contracts.

I will admit to a certain schadenfreude about it, because Colorado Springs has been one of my better examples of hypocrisy for quite some time.  This is what is already happening and it’s going to rapidly get worse, and spread.  Anywhere near a military base, or industry that does business with the military is going to get hit.  Then the furloughs happen, and suddenly, all those people who work on those bases are going to have less money to spend.   There’s going to be a serious ripple effect throughout those areas – and it’s every state.

But it’s not just the military cuts.  It’s all the cuts.  They’re “axes,” not “scalpels.”  Parks, environmental funding, water treatment, education, roads, healthcare, and a host of other things.   The services that most people don’t think of when they think “government spending.”  The money that many states and localities – particularly Republican ones – use to fund themselves and keep things running.
Some of those services are things they’re going to want to keep.  Which means that they’re going to have to make decisions, and that’s going to mean more taxes on the local and state level.  Either that, or they’ll have to do without, and live with it.   My personal bet is that they’ll scream and whine constantly about losing their “necessary,” “critically important” item that they never before thought was … government spending.   It turns out most people aren’t against government spending as long as it’s spending on them.
That’s why the President said “it’s dumb.”  He’s right.  The real shame?  That he had to give a civics lesson to the Washington press and the public about it.

Asked why leaders did not negotiate more vigorously to get a deal before sequestration deadline day, Obama said that his ability to negotiate is limited by Congress’s unwillingness.

“I’m not a dictator,” he said. “I’m the president. So ultimately if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say ‘I need to go to catch a plane,’ I can’t have Secret Service block the doorway, right?”

So maybe instead of focusing on “jedi mindmeld,” they should be focusing on what the Republicans aren’t doing:  Acting smart.  They passed these “dumb” cuts, they’ve dragged their feet ever since, and are now trying to portray them as “a good thing,” or “not our fault.”  The reality? It’s not a good thing, and it is their fault  It’s one thing to be for losing weight, it’s another to think that chopping off a limb is the way to do it.  The Republicans chose the latter.  Which is why this is going to be seriously painful:  It’s not the amount, it’s the method.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “The Sequester: It’s not the amount, it’s the method

  1. Vic78

    That “cut spending” talking point was one of those southern strategy abstractions. You really can’t get ahead talking like Michelle Bachman. So, you have to mask your inner George Wallace. It’s time for Frank Luntz to go back to the drawing board.

    How do our political journalists look at themselves everyday? And how are they still getting away with what they’re doing? I figured after Iraq they would stop playing. On the other hand, I haven’t seen Phil Donahue on tv in a long time. So the reporter asking that dumbass question shouldn’t be too surprising after the last 20 years.

    • The schadenfreude in this, particularly with the Southern Strategy, is that these cuts hit hardest in … the Southern states. Georgia is expected to get hit with almost 500 million dollars less, most of it in military spending. Alabama, 300 million, same thing. Look at MS, LA, FL, and SC, you see 100 million dollar plus cuts. Texas gets whacked by a billion, half of which is military spending cuts, Oklahoma almost 200 million. All of those conservative areas, the ones who think that “government spending” is on things like welfare for lazy people in the cities up North, or immigrants, are going to suddenly learn that their local economies, the ones that had that nice military base or defense contractor there are going to bringing the pain.

  2. “This is like saying “I need to lose some weight,” and instead of changing my diet, cutting out some foods, and exercising more, I just lop off a leg. Yes, I will have lost weight, but it wouldn’t be conducive to a better quality of life. “

    A perfect metaphor

  3. nathkatun7

    I am so glad you are back! You are the best when it comes to using common sense when analyzing politics. It’s a shame that most Americans depend on our unethical and dysfunctional MSM and never get a chance to read practical and sensible bloggers like you.

    I am absolutely convinced that Republicans have been able to get away with their bizarre behavior because of their enablers in the mainstream media. I have yet to see a member of the MSM ask John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor why they were not that obsessed with deficits under George W. Bush, who inherited a surplus from Bill Clinton, but proceeded to run up one of the largest deficits in history. Bush, with the acquiescence of the Republican dominated Congress, financed his two wars on credit, slashed taxes for the rich thus depriving the government revenues, and spent unpaid for billions on Medicare prescription drugs that mainly benefited drug companies. The current leaders of the Republican leadership were in Congress during his presidency, and they aided and abetted George W. Bush’s deficit spending. Yet Bush never faced a sequester! So why the sequester now?

    As far as I am concerned, this sequester is all about making it difficult for President Obama to govern. What the Republicans are doing has absolutely nothing to do with any serious concern about the deficit or long term debt. i am absolutely certain that If Romney had won the 2012 election, Republicans in Congress would have immediately and unconditionally repealed this Sequester nonsense.

  4. Thank you for this simple, clear explanation. Republicans bite off their noses to spite their faces – another apt metaphor for being utterly obstinate and self-serving. As usual. Let’s keep everyone’s perspective clear on this: when the economy tanks again, it will be the fault of the ideological and idiotic Republicans.

  5. see above

    The media just repeats the R’s talking points for them. The cognitive dissonance is enough to give one vertigo. Calling out the fallout from the sequester will be the job of the people. Remember phone calls do work as well as email to your legislators. It’s the Bill Maher bubble at work again.
    Remember 99% of us did not share in the prosperity over the last 30+ years we should not have to sacrifice anymore. Plus the last 5 years the top 1% took in over 100% of all gains which means we’re in real negative territory.

    • One of the things I’ve been seeing from the right is that they’re claiming that Obama was claiming that the sky would fall, and that it would be horribly damaging to our national defense. Somehow, they overlook that those claims about the damage to defense were coming from … Republicans.