If you follow the political news … or heck, just the news in general … the current “big story” is the sequester. This is a set of across-the-board cuts to federal government spending, including defense. Despite the attempts to spin it as “Obama’s fault” by various Republicans, the public isn’t buying it. The new “spin” is that it won’t be bad, it’s “necessary,” and that the sequester is a good thing to “rein in runaway government spending.” The claim is that the White House is hyping the problem, and it “won’t be that bad.” What they’re counting on is that the cuts aren’t going to have an immediate impact.
Which is quite true. March 1’st is the day the sequester cuts take effect. It doesn’t mean that suddenly all that government spending just disappears. It’ll take time to phase in the cuts, although plans are being made for them. So in terms of federal employees being furloughed, offices and parks closing, and programs shutting down, it won’t be apparent on March 2’nd. But, the cuts will have an impact, and it’ll gradually grow.
The biggest impact? Republican states.
But state Republican officials are already starting to freak out. Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, a onetime Tea Party favorite, is worried the sequester will affect the large military and government operations in his state. That’s to be expected. Economically speaking, the Commonwealth of Virginia is rapidly becoming an exurb of the District of Columbia. But Washington pols may soon be hearing about the negative impact of the sequester from some distant Republican redoubts – like Utah.
Yes, the White House has helpfully provided a list of the sequester damage in each state. It’s not by any means a complete listing, but it details some of the major cuts. What isn’t said? The overall impact of those cuts on local economies. For example, Georgia:
In Georgia, approximately 37,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $190.1 million in total.
Army: Base operation funding would be cut by about $233 million in Georgia.
Air Force: Funding for Air Force operations in Georgia would be cut by about $5 million.
That’s 190 million dollars that people won’t have to spend in Georgia. Less state tax money, and if you consider that the “standard figure” in economics is that each dollar spent equals seven dollars in economic activity, that’s over a billion dollars of activity out of the economy of Georgia. The “base operation funding?” That’s things that military bases purchase, and use to run themselves. All of which is a boon – even a necessity – to the local economies in those areas, and it’s going away.
That’s why the governors have been getting pretty vocal about it, even the Republican ones. Despite their normal willingness to adhere to the party line, they know what is going to happen to their budgets, and their state’s economy if these cuts kick in. Which means that the voters in their upcoming elections in 2014 will be remembering who was in charge when the when it comes time to decide who to vote for.
The phrase “whistling in the dark” comes to mind when I watch the Republicans in Congress, along with various conservative pundits, try portray this as “no big thing.” You “whistle in the dark” to show that you’re not really afraid of anything lurking out there in the night, although you really are. Why would I say that they’re doing that? Because as the cuts start to kick in, they’re going to start to feel it.
This is where the Republicans can possibly lose this gamble in a big way, because they don’t appear to see that the administration’s greatest ally in this isn’t the cadre of people it can muster to The Sunday Showz. It’s local TV news and what’s left of the local newspapers around the country.
…Out in the country, every truncated grant proposal is a story.(“Marilyn is a local Hamilton County girl who worked her way through college and medical school after growing up in a homeless shelter. She has an idea for cancer research that the NIH says i the most interesting it’s seen in years. But, because of sequestration…” Cue Marilyn, and some cancer patients.) Every laid-off defense worker is a story. Every closed national park is a story, weeping children live at 5:30 with Sarah, or Jennifer, or Russell from Our News Team discreetly herding the distraught tot into camera range. Local columnists can find easy columns in closed Head Start classrooms. Empty airport terminals make for outstanding video.
There’s already rumbles out there, and it’s going to grow. As the cuts kick in, as the local news starts to report on business X closing because of it, school budgets being cut or local taxes rising, they’re going to get … calls. Their “town halls,” which they’ve been able to pack with adoring followers are going to suddenly be packed with those same people wanting to know why their local military base, college, school is getting hurt. They’re. Not. Going. To. Be. Happy.
A lot of Republicans are starting to realize that, and if they don’t yet, they’re going to get a very rude wake-up call in the near future. Yes, they’re afraid of the blowback, and all their brave talk right now is just … whistling in the dark. The only people they’re fooling is themselves.