Last Updated:November 29 @ 05:14 pm

The Great Sequester Panic

By Pittsburgh Tribune

Prepare for the end of food safety as we have known it. For a breakdown in public order. For little children languishing in ignorance. If only Edward Gibbon were here to chronicle the devastation. On March 1, the fabric of our civilization begins to unwind.

That's when the economy begins to stall and we turn our back on our values, all because the federal government will have to begin to cut a few tens of billions of dollars from the largest budget the world has ever known.

This is the lurid fairy tale spun by President Barack Obama. In the fight over the sequester, he is resorting to the tried-and-true (and tiresome) strategy of every official confronted with unwelcome budget cuts, from the commander in chief to a lowly bureaucrat toiling at some school district: maximize the scaremongering and pain.

In Hans Christian Andersen terms, Obama is the princess and the sequester is the pea. Over the next 10 years, the sequester amounts to a $1.16 trillion cut, or roughly 3 cents on every federal dollar. If we can't squeeze a couple of pennies out of every dollar, we might as well begin our great national bankruptcy proceedings right now.

This year we are supposed to cut $85 billion from a $3.5 trillion budget. And it won't even be that much. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government won't be able to cut the full $85 billion. It will manage to cut only about half that in 2013.

As Yuval Levin of the journal National Affairs points out, even with the sequester, the federal government will spend a little more in 2013 than in 2012, $3.553 trillion compared with $3.538 trillion. Welcome to the Age of Austerity.

Even with the sequester, nondefense discretionary spending will still be up almost 10 percent since 2008. Even with the sequester, federal spending is projected to be a robust 22.8 percent of gross domestic product in 2023. Even with the sequester, the debt will hit 100 percent of GDP just two years later than it would otherwise, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

It's hard to see how a cut of a little more than $40 billion this year can possibly tank a $16 trillion economy. Or why keeping the deficit the same as it is projected to be this year, at about $845 billion with the sequester cuts already accounted for, will be a shock too severe for the economy to take.

None of this should be taken as a brief for the sequester as policy. It is a classic instance of Washington coming up with a stupid kick-the-can compromise and then proceeding to have an even stupider debate over what to do next. The bastard spawn of the debt- ceiling fight, the sequester is designed to be crude and unappealing to all sides. It disproportionately and thoughtlessly hits defense spending and domestic discretionary spending. There is very little to recommend it -- except that it is actually a spending cut in a Washington where that is the rarest of creatures.

Ideally, Congress and the president would agree on more targeted and intelligently crafted savings. But the president insists on more tax increases. The other day he said a cuts-only replacement for the sequester would be as absurd as a taxes-only agreement on overall deficit reduction. Yet he exacted a taxes-only agreement from Republicans over the fiscal cliff, with nary a concern about making the deal more "balanced."

Since Republicans rightfully aren't budging on tax increases so soon after giving the president a tax hike that hit 77 percent of households (thanks to the expiration of the payroll-tax cuts), the sequester seems certain to happen. Presumably, its cuts will be more rationally allocated at some later date. For now, to paraphrase Phil Gramm talking about Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, his own budgetary blunderbuss from the 1980s, the sequester is a bad idea whose time has come.


Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail:

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.

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  1. Ken WhiteComment by Ken White
    February 23, 2013 @ 8:50 am

    For once Gramm is right, SQ is a “bad idea whose time has come.” And the apocolypse will not quickly follow! Hardly. How can Obama look America in the eye and tell us this will be a catastrophic thing after what he himself has done with more malice-of-forethought we have ever seen in a president. The damage Obama has wreaked upon the country so far makes SQ inconsequential, and Obama signed the bill, so what is he talking about? Really? Mr Obama go back to the golf links, we do not need you in WashDC…

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    • susieqComment by susieq
      February 23, 2013 @ 12:49 pm

      And the Oscar goes to the Manchurian Candidate – Barack Hussein Obama…for his pivotal role in I Love to Deceive America…

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    • way2coolComment by way2cool
      February 23, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

      …just another ‘bama-drama’ – hope our Republicans don’t cave; obama doesn’t need another Oscar like the Nobel Peace Prize.

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    • burningmanComment by burningman
      February 23, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

      I wonder of Odama will do this again. Not the cleanest way to cut the budget, but at least it is a move in the right direction.

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  2. roniferComment by ronifer
    February 23, 2013 @ 9:27 am

    Would that Obama would go farther away than the golf links ! His attempt at “The Sky Is Falling” panic
    over this, coupled with his litany of lies and distortions from his very first day in office has done nothing but continue our economy on its ever downward Plunge ! Would that he had the best interests of the American people uppermost in his
    plans instead of his “World Government” goal for us.

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  3. Grouchy OneComment by Grouchy One
    February 23, 2013 @ 10:28 am

    In the first place, the federal government should never have become involved in local schools that are paid for by most towns’ property owners!
    The FDA has been useless as a government agency in that they can be bribed by drug companies, food manufacturers and who knows how many others who have something shady to peddle.
    The president is just clutching at straws to instill fear so that he can whine over those evil members of congress who won’t just sit there and let him do whatever he happens to feel like.
    I’m sorry but I’m getting sick and tired of the whining. It is very obvious to me that there is a lot of money wasted by federal, state and local governments. The Federal government seems to be trying to buy support from the state and local governments in exchange for more federal power and, quite frankly, I’m hoping that those who have not yet been exposed to his kool aid stand their ground before we all go to hell in a handbasket.

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    • spindizzyComment by spindizzy
      February 24, 2013 @ 8:05 am

      Grouch, I would add the Dept. of (non-)Energy to the list of big government money pits that are NOT helping America and that we could easily do without. I am with Gov. Perry on that, along with…ah, and…ah, you know,ah…those other ones.

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    • Grouchy OneComment by Grouchy One
      February 24, 2013 @ 9:40 am

      No doubt that there are literally dozens of “departments” that could be cut back drastically or eliminated altogether. Some were probably meaningful when they were created but they have ALL become ineffective and expensive to maintain.

      I have worked for state governments in two different states. I knew from day one that part of the jobs were not necessary and I later discovered that if the various departments didn’t “spend” the money from their budgets they would lose it the next year. Thus, more jobs were created dividing an already limited work load up even further leaving even more people being paid to sit around doing nothing all day. I can tell you that I was told to “work slower” on many occasions.

      I know that the school system where I worked as a substitute “aid” was way over staffed. Many children with special needs have a paid adult to follow them around all day every day while they are in school.
      Some of those children should, in my opinion, should not be receiving a mainstream education system because they are actually dangerous to other kids. For example, one kid who was supposedly autistic was infuriated by the color yellow. The kid was oversized for his age and would find some way to punch, kick, or shove anyone who was wearing yellow. I see it as a waste of money to pay someone even minimum wage to watch ONE unruly child that doesn’t belong in school in the first place. But more than that, I think that one child’s right to go to school should not be allowed to endanger everyone else’s kids. The federal government created such dilemmas by passing stupid laws regarding education.

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  4. bowler1hatComment by bowler1hat
    February 23, 2013 @ 11:34 am

    Hail to the Panicker in Chief!

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  5. kestutisComment by kestutis
    February 23, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

    As a student of Communist/Alynskyite tactics I can recognize that Obama is brilliantly setting up the Republicans for blame for the upcoming recession. There is no doubt in my mind that the economy is heading downward, Obama is just providing the fall guys. The sequestration cuts will have no significant bearing on that, but it will provide Obama’s team with a scape goat. The upcoming recession will be blamed on the sequester and Republicans. The Congressional 2014 Election will be all about how “The Republicans ruined the country by protecting the rich” Obama also controls the government so he can make things look worse – Always firefighters and Air Traffic Controllers fired, never 100K “Administrators”. Repubs just don’t know how to do this. Pass a number of Spending Bills – Defense, etc. Do Not pass any spending for Planned Parenthood, PBS, Commerce Dept, Energy Dept, Education Dept. These would be the ones that would then disappear when the government shuts down, Republicans would then control the effects not the President.

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  7. wallybluComment by wallyblu
    February 23, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

    Let’s put sequester into perspective through an analogy.

    Obama’s a car sales man. He’s trying to sell us a car. The car costs $35850.00.

    We, the buyer, say we only want to spend $35000.00. What can you do for us? Obama says well we will have to eliminate some things like brakes, transmission, seat belts, lights etc. We say how about just taking out the super stereo hi fi and replace it with a regular amfm radio. Obama says yes that would lower the price by $850.00 but it wouldn’t get you to spend the extra $850.00 like the other scary stuff would.

    That’s how our poiticians think.

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    • empty pocketsComment by empty pockets
      February 25, 2013 @ 7:04 am

      Obama is working hard to panic the masses into a sky-is-falling mentality. And “blame the Republicans…those nasty right wingers”. But if he fails to stop the sequester, he has a panic situation of his own: he has to actually do a bit of work to try as hard as he can to make sure at least SOME pain is felt as a result so he can magnify it.

      If no one notices,…for Obama’s regime…that would be bad.

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  8. mcoryComment by mcory
    February 23, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

    The American people wanted this. They voted for Obama a second time. They bought the con again.

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    • Grouchy OneComment by Grouchy One
      February 23, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

      or did they :( I have long wondered if the people actually elect the president at all. Either people did NOT vote for him or people are ashamed to admit that they did. OR, the electoral college rigged the election from the start.

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  9. gsreaganComment by gsreagan
    February 23, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

    Most of what government infringes on today has been enacted in the last 5 decades. It’s no big deal to revert back to the pre-1960s. My brother and I came off of the family farm in the Texas panhandle and attended elementry and high school (we didn’t have junior high, middle, kindergarden, or pre-school back then) in small faeming town America in the 1950s and early 1960s (before the hipster generation). Both of us worked on the farm with chores (don’t hear that term much any more) and graduated OK and finished College with BS and BA degrees. We worked through school and didn’t borrow money. Life was simple and sweet, back then.

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    • Grouchy OneComment by Grouchy One
      February 23, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

      So true. I started school in the 1950′s. Many of the do-good liberal enactments that picked out certain people to reward at the expense of others were lauded as good “current events” in the Weekly Reader.

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    • way2coolComment by way2cool
      February 23, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

      I agree – I miss the ‘way it was’; simple and sweet with a lot of hope and enthusiasm for what you could become! I am very saddened I can’t offer this to my young grandchildren.

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  10. smthnsmllsnthewhthowsmstbobaaaamaComment by smthnsmllsnthewhthowsmstbobaaaama
    February 23, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

    Gotta’ love a Socialist Dictator President such as Obama. He’s so thoughtful about all of us. He thought to ensure that whether anyone has any money or not, they will still be the turnips that he and the Administration have always thought of them to be. He thought to institute more than 23 Executive Orders. One which took control over the nation’s resources…as did Hitler. Well before the last school shooting, he and the Administration thought to ban and confiscate guns…as did Hitler. He thought to tell his followers lies and he knew they would believe him…as did Hitler and Mao. He thought to continue with the never-proved mental illness racket so that a socialist agenda might be fulfilled…as did Hitler. And, he thought to make our nation safe by leaving open the borders, giving Mexicans social security benefits after they have worked her a certain number of months even if they return to their own country and ensuring that there will be plenty of drones to ensure that no one is mowing anyone down. Gotta’ love him…and the administration.

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  11. rzraickComment by rzraick
    February 23, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

    The President is fear mongering and lying. The powerful who wish to continue to spend and borrow will not even consider even slowing down the debt creation. The sequester will do nothing to reduce the debt. It will only slightly reduce the deficit spending. The deficit in only the difference between the amount collected by the government and what it spends. The sequester will only slow down very slightly the continuing increase in the debt, which has already bankrupted our country.

    What should happen is that a complete freeze should be put on the level of current spending, not just a small reduction, but a freeze. Are we to believe that the government which is now spending at a rate higher than in all history will come to a complete stall, just by spending the same this year as it did last year? Balderdash is right.

    The sequester is almost nothing compared to the overall spending. The debt will destroy the country for worse than all the supposed terrorists in the world. The government must be reduced in size. Some people will be laid off for a time? They should be permanently laid off. The issue of jobs is also just a buzz word. With the unemployment at historic high levels, saying that this will cost jobs is an easy way to panic the suffering populous.

    Government actions have not created jobs. Government spending has cost jobs. The government is bloated. Not just those in power who take multimillion dollar vacations with tax money, but by thousands of government workers who do nothing of any real value to the country. Worried that we will have fewer police in the police state? (a deception in the first place.) so how about reducing the TSA to half its size?

    Worried about teachers? How about eliminating the bloated Department of Education which has done more to ruin education in this country than anything else?

    How can we be so stupid to fall for this? Yes it may be that the government will actually punish us by cutting things we need, rather than cutting their own bloat.

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  12. cdrcodyComment by cdrcody
    February 23, 2013 @ 9:50 pm

    All I can say to the all the democrats from the president on down: You buttered your bread now lay in it.

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