Manufacturing a Fiscal Crisis?
The sky will fall, all over the world, if Congress does not give in to President Barack Obama’s demand for higher taxes, he and others in his administration claim.
You may well have been following Obama’s attempt to portray the upcoming “sequester” as a crisis he can use to extort another tax increase from Congress. Remember, he got a big one late last year, in exchange for virtually no cuts in government spending.
I’ve been asked several times to explain just what Obama and lawmakers mean when they talk about the sequester. Here, in a nutshell, is what’s going on:
Way back in August 2011, the White House talked Congress into approving a debt ceiling increase without spending cuts. In exchange, an agreement was forged that unless real progress in reducing the deficit was made, automatic spending cuts – referred to as a sequester – would go into effect by March 1, 2013.
Sequester rules call for the cuts to be “across the board” for discretionary spending programs.
But Obama is insisting on more new taxes to achieve the required reduction in the budget deficit. Conservative lawmakers say more cuts in how much Washington spends are needed.
As usual, Obama is using the baloney pulpit – a public relations blitz – to argue that it will be all the fault of conservatives in Congress if the sequester proceeds. And if it does, the sky will fall. School teachers, firefighters and police officers will be laid off, he claims. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta maintains the military will be crippled. The Pentagon’s 800,000 civilian employees will be furloughed, he says.
And now, Secretary of State John Kerry is joining the fun. He said Wednesday that, according to The Associated Press, “the greatest challenge to U.S. foreign policy is not emerging China or Middle East instability. It’s Congress” – because lawmakers won’t give in to Obama.
But wait. What were those numbers, again?
If the sequester occurs, it will require $1.2 trillion in spending cuts during the next 10 years. During the remainder of this fiscal year, reductions would total $46 billion, or about $6.6 billion a month.
That’s out of a total federal budget of about $3.8 trillion a year.
In other words, the sequester would require reducing federal spending by less than 3 percent.
Stop and think about that. If you had to reduce your own spending by 3 percent, could you do it if you really had to?
It would be tough, especially if your income is low or moderate to start with. But ours is not a low- or moderate-spending government. Washington’s spending has doubled during the past 12 years, up from about $1.86 trillion a year during fiscal 2001 to $3.8 trillion now.
I’m guessing that if your spending had doubled during the past 12 years, you’d find it easier to cut back by 3 percent.
So here’s the thing: Could it be that Obama and his cohorts aren’t really trying very hard to find ways to make the sequester cuts without furloughing 800,000 Defense Department employees or eliminating funds for teachers, police officers and firefighters?
Could it be that the more of a crisis they can manufacture, the more pressure the public will put on Congress to cave in to the White House?
Here’s another number to think about: The sequester calls for an average of $120 billion a year in spending cuts. That’s about one-seventh of the budget deficit expected for this year alone (and, by the way, the reductions actually required March 1 by the sequester amount to just one-tenth of this year’s deficit).
Obviously, simply requiring across-the-board spending cuts from all agencies isn’t a good idea. But Obama has presented no alternative that would trim less from agencies with more need, and more from those that can stand reductions more easily.
Could it be the president plans to dodge any spending discipline?
Myer can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.