Oops: Arne Duncan may’ve been a bit overenthusiastic in his dire sequester warnings

posted at 10:01 pm on February 27, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

This morning, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was the latest Cabinet member to hit the briefing room and lament the many ghastly ways in which sequestration would man-handle his department’s many absolutely essential functions. Via Politico:

 “Kids are gonna get hurt, kids are gonna get hurt. That’s just the reality,” he said. His visit to the briefing room followed recent appearances by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Duncan expressed real frustration with Congress for being unable to avoid the spending cuts due to begin taking effect on Friday. The dysfunction is “unimaginable,” he said, and makes him “angry” because students will be “taking steps backwards because folks in Washington can’t get their acts together.”

Which certainly does sound serious, but also just happens to make it sound like growing the Department of Education specifically, and big government generally, is unequivocally the best and only remedy for furthering kids’ welfare in this country.

His presentation was similarly dramatic to the claims he made on CBS on Sunday, insisting that “there are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall.” But, when questioned further about that claim in his press briefing today, well… awkward:

When he was pressed in a White House briefing Wednesday to come up with an example, Duncan named a single county in West Virginia and acknowledged, “whether it’s all sequester-related, I don’t know.”

And, as it turns out, it isn’t.

Officials in Kanawha County, West Virginia say that the “transfer notices” sent to at least 104 educators had more to do with a separate matter that involves a change in the way West Virginia allocates federal dollars designated for poor children.

She said those 104 notices will ultimately result in the elimination of about five to six teaching jobs, which were likely to be cut regardless of the sequester.

Ahem. It would appear that the “firemen first” principle is alive and well.

Politicians have been trying to outdo each other in deploying what the neoliberal Washington Monthly founder Charles Peters coined in 1976 as the “firemen first” principle — the notion that “the public will support (the Clever Bureaucrat’s) valiant fight against the budget reduction only if essential services are endangered. Thus, C.B. always picks on teachers, policemen, firemen first.”

So an already rattled nation is being spooked by horror stories of three-hour airport security lines, delayed background check for gun purchases and criminals running freely through the streets. All this for a spending cut that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will be around $44 billion in 2013, a tiny sliver of the federal budget. Imagine the squeals if it included significant cuts.


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