Writing this on the morning following the deadline for the dreaded sequestration cuts to commence, I note happily that civilization is not crumbling around me like some B-grade movie. In the heady exhilaration of that realization, I make a bold prediction: When this column goes to print, no explicit signs of a sequestration-generated Armageddon will have yet materialized. It probably won’t be for lack of trying on the part of the Democratic administration, though.
You know how certain phrases so aptly describe a particular entity they become intrinsically associated with it? For example, Henry Kissinger’s famous quote “even paranoids have enemies” was so thoroughly descriptive of the Soviets at the height of the Cold War that some suggested they ought to print it on their money (which would have at least attached some value to the ruble.) It’s much the same with Rahm Emmanuel’s now ubiquitous comment of “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” I sometimes wonder why the Democratic Party doesn’t just use that as a subtitle to its policy platform. The corollary would be “and if a crisis doesn’t cooperate and present itself, invent one” — bringing us back to the sequestration.
Sequestration should constitute a grammatical crime. The word actually means confiscation or seizure. And in the case of government finance, that boat has long since sailed by the time spending decisions are made. But for the newborn and those just returned from exile, sequestration also refers to the automatic spending cuts evenly split between defense and non-entitlement domestic budgets scheduled to take effect at midnight on March 1 in the absence of congressional action to forestall them. The idea was that the defense cuts would be so unpalatable to Republicans and domestic cuts so far beyond the realm of contemplation for Democrats that both sides would happily trade in their own offspring to reach a deal.
Well, that didn’t happen. Worse, from the left’s point of view, many Republicans looked at the planned “sequester” (gawd, I hate that word) and came away saying “Meh. It’s as close as we’re going to get to reducing spending under this administration and the Defense Department can handle a trim.” Oops.
So now the liberals have a major problem. If society doesn’t come to a screeching halt and the nation doesn’t descend into Mad Max-style anarchy as a result of the cuts, it will be much harder to make the case as to why we need so much government. So the answer is simple: weaponize the cuts.
Actually, it’s a long-established liberal tactic. If forced with cutting government funding (say due to being denied a tax hike by the voters), make the cuts as painful as possible and torture the rubes into accepting higher taxes.
In a similar vein, the Obama administration will attempt to use the sequestration to make a political point. Rather than look for waste, redundancies or inefficiencies, they will make the cuts as ostentatiously painful as possible.
Granted, the cuts really don’t amount to much — a mere half of 1 percent of gross domestic product and 2 percent of federal spending. Nevertheless, the Democrats will try to make it count by, say, keeping aircraft carriers in dock, releasing detained illegal aliens, grounding airplanes due to inadequate air traffic control, reducing childhood vaccinations or cutting back on meat inspections. (I’m sure states could adequately handle the last two areas on their own if allowed to take some of their money back from Washington to do so, but that’s an argument for another time.)
It’s the equivalent of an American family faced with a 2 percent reduction in a planned household raise compensating by foregoing payment on the electricity bill rather than giving up its online fortune teller service or monthly deliveries of Snuggies and PedEggs.
That the sequester is really nothing to be scared of is terrifying to liberals. It really ought to be an opportunity to begin the long-delayed process of identifying and prioritizing the functions that truly are the proper purview of the federal government. Instead, some will try to use it as an opportunity to prove we’re helpless without our federal nurse maidens.
However, there could be some utility to be salvaged in the exercise yet if we wish to identify the areas of government excess that deserve contraction. Looking at what Obama chooses not to cut might be a good place to start.