March 3, 2013

Obama’s Sequestration: Even Machiavelli Would Blush

by Hal Gershowitz

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We don’t mean to make light of the Sequestration concocted in 2011 by Jack Lew, now President Obama’s new Secretary of the Treasury, which goes into effect as we finalize this week’s essay.  It is sad testament to what passes for leadership in America today (both by the Congress and by the Obama Administration). But Americans should focus like a laser on one undeniable fact.  There will be no decrease in overall  total federal spending.  In fact, after Sequestration goes into effect there will be a $15 billion INCREASE in spending this year over what the government spent last year.  Putting aside the language-corrupting, slight-of-hand known as baseline budgeting, the government’s post-Sequester pseudo budget (remember, the Democratically controlled Senate has not passed a budget in any of the Obama years) this year will be $3.553 trillion compared to last year’s $3.538 trillion budget.

The President has been on the campaign stump (from which he has never departed) and, last Sunday, sent his minions to the morning talk shows to warn of the impending slashing of military bases and aircraft carriers, teachers, border patrols, air controllers, air port security personnel and, we suppose, crossing guards at elementary schools.  But none of this need happen unless the President or his people let it happen, because finding an expendable $85 billion out of $3.5+ trillion in federal expenditures (about two and a half cents of every dollar) could represent sensible streamlining (ask virtually any successful business what it does to remain efficient) rather than the draconian slashing about which the President incessantly warns.  Of course, the Administration has, in a sense, been hoisted on its on petard because it excluded entitlements (over 60% of the budget) from the Sequester, thereby concentrating the mandated reductions in spending on the remaining government programs. Nonetheless, the Sequester should result in a serious review of unnecessary government spending.  We may have to do without some excess baggage in government (does anyone doubt that there is excess baggage in government) or, as a Wall Street Journal op-ed noted last Thursday, without sightseeing trains in Alaska, or old-fashioned trolleys in Missouri and sidewalks to nowhere in Florida.  But Sequestration is mostly about political theater. So there President Obama goes again.

The President, having pocketed the $600+ billion in tax increases the Republicans accepted just a few weeks ago, is now seeking additional revenue (tax increases) as part of any deal to avoid the Sequestration that takes effect this week. It’s the same old song that he sang during the campaign. As Peggy Noonan put it, “It is always cliffs, ceilings and looming catastrophes with Barack Obama.  It is almost always government by freakout.”  That’s a good description of the way he intends to handle the Sequestration.  His people proposed it, and both parties agreed to it, expecting that draconian cuts would somehow be avoided.  The cuts would, the negotiators reasoned, be replaced because each side would find them too difficult.  The Democrats would avoid severe cuts to domestic programs, by targeting cuts in a more precise way, while the Republicans would avoid excessive defense cutting, which could represent a threat to our national security.

Mr. Obama is now out there risking any hope of national unity by blaming Republicans for the chaos he prophesizes. He talks about calamity, points fingers and, it seems, garners support. It’s been quite a spectacle. Even stalwarts in the mainstream media including Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, Candy Crowley of CNN and David Gregory of NBC, to name a few, have raised the ire of the Administration by questioning various aspects of the President’s Sequestration hyperbole.

Sadly, as we have written in past essays, the Republicans do not have a single voice with which to speak.  It is every man for himself in the House on the Republican side.  What is the effect of all of this on the public?  We have a dysfunctional Congress as it is, and it sours the national mood and leaves the body politic more anxious. In the short term, the majority of the public may side with the President, but as Abraham Lincoln, perhaps apocryphally, is reported to have said, “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”  It may very well be necessary for the Republicans to take some short-term heat if they are going to stand for anything anymore.  The Obama administration has, foolishly in our opinion, maneuvered to put itself in a position where it scores big points if things are really bad, and there is a lot of suffering in the land. The Democrats are counting on the political reality that, while the public supports the idea of budget cuts, they don’t often approve specific cuts.  What does Mr. Obama say?  He tells us that kindergarten teachers will be laid off and children will not learn how to read, that the lines at the airport will become longer. Sadly, such turmoil would probably serve his interests, because the public, once suffering, will demand some resolution, and the resolution will be directed toward getting the Republicans to cave.

Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey offered an eleventh hour bill that would have enabled Obama to “distinguish between more sensible government spending and less sensible spending.”  Not surprisingly, the President and the Democratic leadership flat out rejected it. Heaven forbid they should take any action to lessen the pain.  The Democrats countered with a nonsense proposal to substitute tax increases and some scattered cuts in defense and farm- subsidy spending. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office immediately scored the Democratic proposal (S-388) and determined that it “would increase direct spending by $62.4 billion and revenue by $$55.1 billion over the 2012 – 2023 period.  Thus, the cumulative deficit would INCREASE (emphasis added) by $7.2 billion” (under the Democratic proposal).

So what in the world is going on here?  The Administration and the Democrats in Congress turn down a proposal to allow the President flexibility in managing the Sequestration his people proposed, and counter with a proposal that increases both taxes and deficits.  Even Prince Machiavelli would blush.

If there is going to be a credible and constructive opposition in this country, the Republican Party has to stand for something.  They already gave the President substantial tax increases in the year-end fiscal cliff deal.  Should they give more?  We don’t think so..  The Washington Post’s, Zachary Goldfarb and Paul Kane matter‑of‑factly report on Obama’s campaign to “spread the news of the Sequester to every state, thereby repeating his instructions, lest any Democrat in office missed the point.  Obama needs pain and trauma felt in every corner of the country; the more the better.  Administration officials and their willing media sycophants are probably already cooperating on identifying and staging the best or worst, depending on your point of view, possible impact on the budget cuts.”  “It would not surprise me,” said Messrs. Goldfarb and Kane, “if the Washington area is in for special neglect and harassment from the Obama administration.  There is a special need to create long lines at airports and other such visible torment so that members of Congress can witness for themselves what they have wrought.”

It is clear that Sequestration was never supposed to be about increasing taxes.  It was designed to rein in spending, something the Obama Administration (and all so-called progressives) are loath to do.   The President, at first, tried to deny that his people conceived the current Sequestration, but that orphan has a home and it is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Frankly, this may be the high water mark of governmental failure.  We have a President who will not get off the campaign trail, who thrives on it, and who is obsessed with pointing the finger at the Republicans so that they take the blame for any short-term pain.  His strategy is to cause that pain, and in the off year elections in 2014 win the House and then have a free hand for the rest of his term to, as he puts it “transform the country.”  In our view, it has already been transformed quite enough.

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One response to “Obama’s Sequestration: Even Machiavelli Would Blush”

  1. mark j levick says:

    Obama has stated that we do not have a spending problem He is supported by Paul Krugman and his Nobel prize in economics. Thus we are left with a revenue problem as revenues aren’t keeping up with spending and thus the deficit increases. The largest single tax increase in American history has not made a dent in the deficit. Taxing the poor and the middle class is out and reforming the tax code so that corporate America and the wealthy have no deductions is in and only those nasty Republicans are blocking these “reforms”. Unfortunately no one has reported that there are not enough rich people to tax and even closing loop holes will not cut the deficit. There is waste in Defense spending so the Democrats find cutting the Defense budget to the bone is justifiable even though every military expert short of Chuck Hagel have expressed the view that our military and hence our national security will be crippled. No one has mentioned that there is waste in every Government program and there is redundancy is many; that Congress and the Executive Branch have extraordinary benefits at taxpayer expense, that the President uses Air Force One as his own toy; that bureaucracy keeps growing and firing bureaucrats is nearly impossible and that our project debt levels are unsustainable once we are required to pay the interest thereon. The American public is not stupid but four years of unchecked lies take on a perception of truth. We need more Bob Woodwards if we are to survive as a super power.

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