Wouldn’t it be nice if, for once, the average American actually sought out information on a current issue and then made an intelligent conclusion before taking a position, rather than relying political sound bites, tweets or biased, one sided presentations that simply reinforce their preconceived position? The current “crisis” in Washington, the upcoming mandated spending cuts known as “sequester”, is a case in point. Both sides are shouting horror stories of the results if $85 billion in across-the-board cuts, split between defense and domestic programs, is allowed to happen. But an informed citizen should be curious and ask a few “why?” questions.
The first question should be “Why are some political leaders insisting that our government does not have a “spending problem” while the vast majority of economists tell us that it does? Even our un-informed masses, according to the polls, understand that borrowing $4 of every $10 spent is a recipe for disaster. Those same polls suggest that the large majority want it stopped, preferring cuts in spending to tax increases.
The next question should be “If sequester is such a bad idea, whose idea was it, and why did both sides agree to it?” The answer is that our politicians have a favorite game. It is called “Kick the can down the road.” Both sides of Congress and the president play this game. Psychologists call it AI, Avoiding Issues. Politicians are very careful to avoid having their name attached to a particular side of an issue that could become a campaign issue in their next election. But to answer the question, “sequester” was hatched in the Obama White House in order to avoid another “crisis.” Both Houses of Congress passed it in order to avoid that particular crisis, with the predictable result of creating the next.
The big question is “If sequester is such a crisis, why did Congress go on vacation rather than stay in session until it is resolved?” Such a question could lead an informed citizen to conclude that there isn’t much of a crisis at all – simply an ideological dispute.
The Republicans tell us that sequester will be a disaster for our defense department while the Democrats invoke visions of a poisoned food supply and starving babies. The truth is that indiscriminate cuts could be harmful to some programs. But can either side truthfully say that there cannot be found $45 billion of waste or unnecessary spending? The Republicans in the House intend to alleviate the problem by sending the Senate and the President a bill that will grant discretionary authority to all departments to make the mandated cuts where they will do the least damage. If Harry Reid and Obama are serious about the “dangers” of sequester, they will welcome the bill.
Finally, the informed voter should refer to history. On April 8, 2011 Congress and the president all agreed on a $37.8 billion cut. How was it accomplished and was it real? The Transportation Department got credit for “cutting” a $280 million tunnel that had been cancelled 6 months previously and a $375 million road project created by a legislative typo on a road that did not exist. The Census Bureau was equally creative, cutting $6 billion by promising to not follow the 2010 census with another in 2011 – a process mandated by the Constitution to occur every 10 years. When the dust settled, federal agencies had absorbed $23 billion without the loss of a single employee. It should be further noted by the informed citizen that Congress recently passed a $50 billion dollar spending package in response to hurricane Sandy. Of that amount, $10 billion actually went toward the damages, while the other $40 billion went to special projects (pork) unrelated to the disaster- an amount remarkably close to the spending cuts mandated in domestic spending. Perhaps Congress should simply revisit that bill and nullify that $40 billion expenditure. Voila! Crisis on the domestic side resolved. Since Congress also has a nasty habit of including pork unrelated to defense in that budget, I wouldn’t be surprised if a like amount couldn’t be found there.