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Notes On A Sequester

A few notes on the budget sequester that is schedule to happen tonight.

First, it’s going to happen. We may, eventually, get something else to replace it. But it has been obvious to me for two weeks now that the sequester is going to happen. The writing on the wall was when Congress went on vacation and the politicos spent time blaming each other rather than talking about solutions.

The reason it’s going to happen is not because it’s necessarily a good idea. It’s because replacing it entails a lot more work and political risk than our lazy cowardly leaders are willing to take on. They would much rather throw some blame on those idiots in the last Congress and the last Administration and hope that no one notices that the two groups of idiots are almost exactly the same. In fact, one of them still occupies the same big white house he did back in 2011.

The Woodward story Alex cites below (and the subsequent liberal freakout) comes from the allegation by Woodward that the sequester was Obama’s idea. Obama can tolerate a sequester; but he won’t tolerate being blamed for it. That, in a nutshell, is the sequester debate.

Second, the sequester is a very poor way of cutting spending. To give you just a few examples. Vaccination programs are going to be cut, perhaps resulting in tens or hundreds of thousands of missed shots. Vaccinations are a public interest. Unvaccinated kids don’t just put themselves at risk; they put everyone at risk because they compromise herd immunity. You’d have to dig pretty deep into Ayn Rand or Adam Smith to justify putting the public health at risk.

To give you another example, detained immigrants are being released because we won’t have the personnel to keep them in detention (although this raises a host of side issues, such as the atrocity of illegals being in detention for years awaiting hearing). On the other hand, it appears that supervised release is both perfectly doable and infinitely cheaper. In the end, this may be a win-win.

State governments are also up in arms including many died-in-the-wool conservatives like Jindal, Haley, McDonnell, Hubert and Walker. They are, inadvertently, revealing how often “responsible balanced state budgets” are balanced by the influx of federal dollars. But they are also very aware that a blind cut in education spending, for example, runs into a thorn maze of regulations, union rules and laws. The end result may be disastrous.

Supporters have pointed that $85 billion isn’t a lot in a $3.5 trillion budget. It is, a lot, however, when it is narrowed to a thin slice of spending with almost all entitlements exempted. For most programs, you’re looking at 10% cuts. And programs that need to be completely gutted — ethanol support for example — are hurt just as much as programs that are desperately needed like law enforcement.

However, …

Third, I don’t think this is going to be the economic disaster a lot are foretelling. I’ve seen estimates that this could destroy a couple of million jobs and plunge us back into recession. That seems absurd, given the scale of cut we’re talking about and Congress’s ability to reverse them. We’ve had cuts much larger than this in the past. Somehow, we’ve survived.

Fourth, I think this once again demonstrates how useless our leaders are. They came up with the sequester a year and a half ago as a way to force themselves to make smart cuts in the budget. This could be replaced, quite easily, with a package that reins in entitlements (e.g, chained CPI on Social Security) and kills some pointless government programs (e.g., ethanol subsidies, the second engine for the hyper-expensive F-35). They have had eighteen fucking months of holding that gun to their own heads. And now they are sitting on their hands waiting for the gun to go off so they can blame each other.

Why do we even have a Congress? Why do we even have a President? They aren’t doing their jobs. Maybe it’s time for the governors to say “that’s it” and pull the plug on this shit show.

In the end, this will be a relatively small cut in spending that could have very bad side effects and does nothing to address the tens of trillions in unfunded liability for entitlements (to which Obamacare is now estimated to add $6.2 trillion). That’s not exactly a solution.

(Disclosure: As a grant-funded scientist, I should note what the sequester will do to research funding (which has strangely been falling under the leadership of the “Party of Science”). You can see details here. No matter how you slice it, you’re looking at thousands of scientists out of work. And not scientists doing research on crab boners or something. This includes NIH-funded research on medicine, cancer treatment, public health and antibiotics. I suspect this will also mean a lot of people leaving for other countries to do research.

I won’t comment on the wisdom of this; my opinion is probably easy to discern. I mention it here so you can weigh it in considering my opinion of the sequester in general.)

15 comments

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  1. Miguelito says:

    Third, I don’t think this is going to be the economic disaster a lot are foretelling. I’ve seen estimates that this could destroy a couple of million jobs and plunge us back into recession. That seems absurd, given the scale of cut we’re talking about and Congress’s ability to reverse them. We’ve had cuts much larger than this in the past. Somehow, we’ve survived.

    I agree on this bit. First off, it’s not necessarily even a cut in money to some programs but a lesser growth as the overall spending for the year is expected to still be up, just a tiny bit less.

    I’ve heard another theory that sounds interesting about why they’re panicking and trying to make sure any cuts made are the most painful to the public as possible: they’re scared shitless that the cuts could happen, that the apocalypse doesn’t happen and people realize that and push for even more cuts.

    I do agree that the fact the entitlements are all safe is completely bullshit… those are the main problem facing us in the long term that are going to bankrupt this nation if they’re not reformed, and done sooner rather then later.

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  2. Hal_10000 says:

    I’ve heard another theory that sounds interesting about why they’re panicking and trying to make sure any cuts made are the most painful to the public as possible: they’re scared shitless that the cuts could happen, that the apocalypse doesn’t happen and people realize that and push for even more cuts.

    Exactly so. I think this is THE thing that scares the shit out of not only Democrats but every Keynesian out there. So far, they’ve been citing European austerity as proof that it doesn’t work. But this will be a big test case.

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  3. Xetrov says:

    To give you another example, detained immigrants are being released because we won’t have the personnel to keep them in detention (although this raises a host of side issues, such as the atrocity of illegals being in detention for years awaiting hearing). On the other hand, it appears that supervised release is both perfectly doable and infinitely cheaper. In the end, this may be a win-win.

    I call Bullshit on this one. The illegals will disappear into the ether, never to be heard from again.

    Why the hell they are sitting in cells instead of being shipped home is something I will never understand. More illegal aliens free in the country is most definitely not “win-win” for American Citizens.

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  4. hist_ed says:

    If memory serves, the Obama administration is only putting illegals with serious criminal records in detention so any released have a real incentive to go underground.

    Bet that Harry Reid’s Cowboy Poetry ain’t gonna get cut.

    Oh and Hal, what do you have against crab boners? Don’t they have a right to sexual happiness?

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  5. Hal_10000 says:

    I call Bullshit on this one. The illegals will disappear into the ether, never to be heard from again.

    Read the link. They wear electronic monitor bracelets. For the most part, these have not been illegals with criminal records. A few have, which needs to be corrected.

    Also, Maxine Water is claiming that the sequester will eliminate 170 million jobs.

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2013/02/28/maxine_waters_over_170_million_jobs_could_be_lost_due_to_sequestration.html

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  6. Ed Kline says:

    are hurt just as much as programs that are desperately needed like law enforcement.

    The fuck you say. A 10%ish reduction in federal monies for the random enforcement of a Byzantine federal code, nevertheless the prosecution of the drug war sounds like a great idea to me.
    . Honestly Hal, you’re pretty much the only reason I even come here since Lee died, but does the upside of the FBI, ATF Federal Prosecutors, DEA etc, having substantially less money to arbitrarily ruin the lives of thousands of Americans really sound like a bad idea to you? Shit, I’d rather keep the ethanol subsidies ( which are total bullshit) and reduce the Federal law enforcement funds even further.

    No matter how you slice it, you’re looking at thousands of scientists out of work.

    Good, some of it had to be bloat anyway, and I’d rather see most of that be addressed by the private sector regardless.

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  7. Xetrov says:

    Read the link. They wear electronic monitor bracelets.

    And when they cut them off, is Napolitano’s ICE going to go after them? Hell no. My question still stands (not for you, just in general), why the hell aren’t these people wearing the bracelets in their home countries?

    For the most part, these have not been illegals with criminal records.

    Well then, we should invite them to join the food stamp roles ASAP. At least in detention they were getting three squares a day, to not have taxpayers pay to feed someone who shouldn’t be in the country is just inhumane. And don’t forget Obamacare, they need health insurance too.

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  8. Hal_10000 says:

    The fuck you say. A 10%ish reduction in federal monies for the random enforcement of a Byzantine federal code, nevertheless the prosecution of the drug war sounds like a great idea to me.
    . Honestly Hal, you’re pretty much the only reason I even come here since Lee died, but does the upside of the FBI, ATF Federal Prosecutors, DEA etc, having substantially less money to arbitrarily ruin the lives of thousands of Americans really sound like a bad idea to you? Shit, I’d rather keep the ethanol subsidies ( which are total bullshit) and reduce the Federal law enforcement funds even further.

    A fair point. I do worry that sequesters and budget cuts will make the War on Drugs a bit worse in the short term as departments engage in more asset forfeiture to bolster budgets.

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  9. Hal_10000 says:

    The best defense of the sequester — and it’s no an unreasonable one — is that while it’s a dumb policy, it’s better than no policy. I’m very sympathetic to that argument.

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  10. Ed Kline says:

    … a bit worse in the short term as departments engage in more asset forfeiture to bolster budgets.

    A fair point as well, though I doubt those that would abuse asset forfeiture have shown any real restraint up till now, and if they become even more abusive maybe the general populace will take more notice.

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  11. Ed Kline says:

    Btw, only 44 billion is actually slated to be cut this fiscal year, the rest later, with most of it coming out of the defense budget, so I think the impact wont be nearly as noticeable.

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  12. Hal_10000 says:

    One thing I noticed over the weekend: the Democrats are tacking away from “OMG! Disaster!” narrative they’ve been building up. It’s looking more and more like everyone thinks this will have a short-term hit on the economy but will be OK long term. And maybe good long term if we can really get control of the debt.

    if the economy doesn’t go in the tank, that means, between the tax hikes and the spending cuts, we’ve enacted $100-200 billion in deficit reduction without starting a depression. That’d be a huge data point against Keynesianism. But I’ll wait and see what happens.

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  13. grady says:

    Btw, only 44 billion is actually slated to be cut this fiscal year, the rest later, with most of it coming out of the defense budget, so I think the impact wont be nearly as noticeable.

    Unless you live in a town that relies heavily on DOD spending or have a job in that industry. DOD employees are looking at a 20% cut in pay from mid-April to mid-Sept (furlough). The private contractors that work in Navy maintenance are already receiving pink slips.

    I would prefer a smarter look at the budget and intelligent decisuions made about the cuts. Not likely with our current administration and Congress. I agree that spending needs to be cut and that forced cuts (even dumb ones) are better than none at all.

    It just sucks to think about losing your own job and that this makes very little reduction in our deficit. Why-o-why do our congresscritters and president not get the same 20% cut in pay?

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  14. Miguelito says:

    I would prefer a smarter look at the budget and intelligent decisuions made about the cuts. Not likely with our current administration and Congress. I agree that spending needs to be cut and that forced cuts (even dumb ones) are better than none at all.

    Yeah, I mean, we’re talking the dem’s that had total control of both houses (and the pres) for 2 whole years and have had control of the Senate and haven’t even passed a budget in several years now. At least the house has passed a couple budgets but ol’ Harry won’t even let it get started in the senate.

    That’s part of the whole sequester bullshit that’s really pissed me off. It’s being talked about almost like it snuck up on them, when the whole process has been years in the making.

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  15. Hal_10000 says:

    Why-o-why do our congresscritters and president not get the same 20% cut in pay?

    THIS ^^^

    That’s part of the whole sequester bullshit that’s really pissed me off. It’s being talked about almost like it snuck up on them, when the whole process has been years in the making.

    I think Obama is going to spend his second term blaming his problems on all those incompetent dufuses who were in the White House the last four years.

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