The White House plan so far is pretty much according to the Fireman First principle, the idea first promulgated by Washington Monthly founder Charles Peters: that a bureaucracy when faced with cuts will tout its most popular program. Hence a mayor faced with a budget shortfall says he’ll have to “cut firemen first” as opposed to “restructure munipcal bond sales first.”…
But we don’t really know how much the cuts will affect everyday life. The markets are yawning right now, but will they in a month? Or three months? What happens if there really is faulty meat inspection or a plane crash—things that could have happened even with full funding but which will be easy to blame on sequestration? Who’ll get blamed?
Democrats I spoke with think the Republicans will eventually come around just as they did in January when the Bush tax cuts expired and they signed on to new legislation that raised rates on families earning more than $450,000. Republicans, of course, insist that they’ve already given and that this time, without a cudgel like the expiration of tax cuts the president would not renew, they’re in no mood to cave. Neither side is budging because both sides think they can prevail. As with World War I, when Europe stumbled into war, no one’s really thought through what the world could look like a month from now.
With Congress unlikely to stop deep automatic spending cuts that will strike hard at the military, the fiscal stalemate is highlighting a significant shift in the Republican Party: lawmakers most keenly dedicated to shrinking the size of government are now more dominant than the bloc committed foremost to a robust national defense, particularly in the House…
“Fiscal questions trump defense in a way they never would have after 9/11,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. “But the war in Iraq is over. Troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and we want to secure the cuts.”…
A sizable number of Republicans, including many senators, are incensed by the cuts about to fall on the Pentagon, totaling $43 billion for the 2013 fiscal year. Because the Defense Department will have only seven months to put them into effect and because military personnel are protected, military training, weapons acquisition and maintenance stand to be cut by 13 percent.
President Ronald Reagan’s push in the 1980s for tax cuts and domestic spending restraint were accompanied by a huge military buildup. “There’s no way the party of Ronald Reagan should be accepting these cuts,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who has privately sought some compromise on tax loopholes.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Monday urged lawmakers to call the president’s “bluff” and empower the White House to make targeted spending cuts to avoid sequestration.
“They should find an alternative, they should do their job and why not empower the president and his administration. Give them the authority within their budgets to make those changes so they don’t have to do some of the things they are talking about,” said Walker on “Fox & Friends.”…
“Call the bluff and let them go forward in doing it, there’s got to be a better way, it’s not about avoiding cuts, it’s not about tax increases it’s about cutting true waste, fraud and abuse,” said Walker.
Here are three questions for folks wetting their pants about the sequester:
1. Under what sort math do you figure that cutting $44 billion or $85 billion from a total tab of $3.6 trillion is anything more than a rounding error? Half of the cuts are slated for defense spending, which has grown massively over the past decade-plus. Do you really think that the military can’t cope?
2. Do you really believe that the sequester cuts will tank a $16 trillion economy? And if so, what’s the multiplier on that? GDP is counted in such a way that most government spending automatically gets counted as increasing the amount of economic activity (the same doesn’t hold for private spending, where different conditions hold). Do you at least agree in theory that government spending has been cut in the past without ruining the economy (and if you don’t, why not)?
3. When will conditions be right to actually cut spending? There’s a raft of anti-sequester people – such as Barack Obama – who pay lip service to the idea that government spending (especially government deficit spending) needs to stop or be reduced at some point in the future. But like St. Augustine in his partying period, they don’t want to get straight just yet. So when might that be? If we can’t afford to cut a tiny fraction of current spending now – after a year-plus of knowing this was coming and a major punting on the original deadline – when might we?
BROOKS: So let me reject what the Republicans are doing. I have more ambivalent feelings about what the White House is doing. But the Republicans are doing the worst of all possible worlds. This was designed to be stupid; it magnificently achieves that.
The Democrats – or the Republicans are in a position politically where they have to show the country they’re [not] mindless anti-government fanatics, they can separate good government policies from bad government policies. This is a piece of mindless anti-government fanaticism, which doesn’t separate the good from the bad. It just cuts.
But, it’s also possible that the size of the cuts — a trillion dollars is a ton of money even spread out over the next decade — and the heat of the rhetoric coming from the two parties causes the sort of crisis that forces a decent number of people to pay attention and begin to re-examine (or, more likely examine) the way they think about spending. And, if enough people start paying attention, their politicians — forever a reactive species — could well be emboldened or intimidated into doing something big(ger).
The most basic truth of modern politics is that action happens only in response to crisis. (That may not be the politics we want, but it’s definitely the politics we have.) The sequester may not be that crisis — maybe it’s the debt ceiling fight to come later this summer — but if it is, that’s probably a good thing for people who want things to change in some meaningful way. Short of a crisis, the sort of kick-the-can-ism that has dominated the last decade or more in politics will continue ad infinitum.
Click the image to watch.