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.
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.)