Sequester follies

A brief history of the sequester: (1) Democrats and Republicans were supposed to work together to devise a deficit reduction plan based on spending cuts and no tax increases. (2) If the parties couldn’t agree, the sequester would automatically impose spending cuts. (3) Both parties were supposed to be motivated to avoid the cuts, but Democrats never negotiated in good faith because they planned to renege on the ground rules and demand tax hikes. (4) Once this became clear, Republicans decided that it would be better just to let automatic cuts take place, but proposed legislation that would give the president the power to allocate those cuts to the least damaging places. (5) Senate Democrats killed that legislation, because they want the sequester to be as painful as possible. (6) The Obama administration, now, is making sure the sequester is as painful as possible.

Before the sequester, the White House promoted sequester pain by lying about what would happen. For example:

Starting tomorrow everybody here, all the folks who are cleaning the floors at the Capitol. Now that Congress has left, somebody’s going to be vacuuming and cleaning those floors and throwing out the garbage. They’re going to have less pay. The janitors, the security guards, they just got a pay cut, and they’ve got to figure out how to manage that. That’s real.

That’s President Obama, telling an outright lie. Glenn Kessler obtained two different documents explaining that capitol janitors and guards would not be effected. In Kessler’s assessment, “nothing in Obama’s statement came close to being correct.”

Now that the sequester is under way, the White House plan is to promote pain, using the time-honored “Washington Monument strategy”, in which you cut key functions but preserve the waste. Thus, in one example, the Department of Agriculture is cutting meat inspectors, but preserving a wine-tasting junket.

Will Obama get away with this cynical strategy? I wouldn’t bet against it. It all depends on the honor of the press: will they act as the administration’s lackies, and report only the painful cuts, or will they also report the wasteful spending that the administration did not cut? We’re in trouble.

(Previous post.)

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