Embrace the Sequester and Go Cold Turkey on Federal Addiction

Barack ObamaWhite HouseMy colleagues point out that the White House is spreading bogeyman stories thick and deep with warnings that sequestration will shutter agencies that were actually closed down long ago and bring  American life to a grinding halt as unfunded bureaucrats stop greasing the wheels and wiping our snotty noses for us. But it's true that the Obama administration has a lot of examples to offer of lost programs and salaries and subsidies if sequestration forces a humongous 1.5 percent reduction in projected spending for fiscal 2013, reducing the behemoth on the Potomac to *sob* spending only a little bit more ($3.55 trillion) than it spent the previous year ($3.53 trillion). With the Congressional Budget Office estimating (PDF) that "[b]y 2023, if current laws remain in place, debt will equal 77 percent of GDP and be on an upward path," those examples should be ample evidence that federal spending is an unsustainable monkey on America's collective back, and it's as good a time as any to go cold turkey.

The White House helpfully breaks down the oh-so unconscionable cuts in essential services sequestration will force on us state by state. So it's easy for me to peruse the sad fate awaiting my community (PDF) because "Arizona will lose approximately $17.7 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 240 teacher and aide jobs at risk." Teachers and aides? Why is D.C. needed to pay for teachers and aides in Arizona schools? Wouldn't it be a tad more efficient if we in Arizona paid our own teachers instead of sending money off to the swamp that neither Maryland nor Virginia wanted so that it can be returned to us as an example of federal largesse?

Likewise, "[a]round 2,310 fewer low income students in Arizona would receive aid to help them finance the costs of college and around 330 fewer students will get work-study jobs that help them pay for college." Uh huh. Note that, even in this era of inflated higher education costs, annual in-state tuition at Northern Arizona University remains a not-so-ruinous $8,453. Maybe students could work at real jobs to pay the bill (my wife waited tables and I worked at a warehouse and sold dope) instead of the phony subsidized "jobs" that constitute work-study.

The White House also warns that "[i]n Arizona, approximately 10,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed." That sounds like a great start in transitioning toward a productive economy that blows less stuff up. As for "job-search assistance" and "law enforcement and public safety funds," I think my county could survive with a few less sheriff's deputies and I imagine they can all master the intricacies of Monster.com.

Overall, even if you approve of the programs that are threatened with cuts, it's not clear, aside from defense-related expenditures, why those programs are funded in any way by the feds.

On a national basis, the White House highlights five areas of supposedly especially dire threats from sequestration:

  • Cuts to education
  • Cuts to small business
  • Cuts to food safety
  • Cuts to research and innovation
  • Cuts to mental health

To me, this is less an argument against cuts than an exhibit of how dependent we've allowed ourselves to become on the federal government. Are we really going to argue that private businesses need the federal government in order to function? Research and innovation needs the wizards of D.C.? If so, it's only in the way that my Uncle Nick needed a glass of scotch.

I don't doubt that weaning people who have grown accustomed to dependency off of the federal teat may be a bit painful at first, but the well really is running dry. Note that the CBO's estimate that "debt will equal 77 percent of GDP" is based on optimistic assumptions. The CBO adds (PDF):

If, for instance, lawmakers eliminated the automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect in March (but left in place the original caps on discretionary funding set by the Budget Control Act), prevented the sharp reduction in Medicare’s payment rates for physicians, and extended the tax provisions that are scheduled to expire at the end of calendar year 2013 (or, in some cases, in later years), budget deficits would be substantially larger over the coming decade than in CBO’s baseline projections. With those changes, and no offsetting reductions in deficits, debt held by the public would rise to 87 percent of GDP by the end of 2023 rather than to 77 percent.

Automated, unthinking across-the-board cuts may not be the best way to reduce the country's dependence on a stumbling federal government, but Americans have to put down the crack pipe some time. Now would be a good time to start, with a very modest trim to what will still be an increase in federal spending.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Cuts to sunshine.

    Cuts to puppy food.

    Cuts to orgasms.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Get the states to do it?
    Get the cities to do it?

    Stop asking for free shit.

  • wareagle||

    (my wife waited tables and I worked at a warehouse and sold dope)
    ------------

    and if that's not training for your present job, I don't know what is.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    2-Chilly narced on his own wife. Damn.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    I read that wrong, twice. He narced on himself.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    What is wrong with:

    Cuts to education
    Cuts to small business
    Cuts to food safety
    Cuts to research and innovation
    Cuts to mental health

    Oh, he wasn't saying they would cut regulation, rules, restrictions and red tape in those areas?

    If the vast federal aparat that tries to strangle business, ingenuity and entrepreneurship in the cradle gets trimmed back by even one overfed, porn watching on the taxpayer's dime GS-13, then rock on sequester!

  • Paul.||

    Forgive me if I've come to an obvious conclusion, but I'm beginning to understand better why liberals and Democrats in general go apeshit when a cut (of any size) to the government comes up.

    It's not because they believe that government must remain as big and vibrant and all powerful as it is, it's because they DON'T believe it has to be what it is, and they fear that if some miniscule cut occurs and no one notices, then the public will question the entire notion of this far reaching institution which... well, pretty much calls into question everything else they really do believe.

    Sort of like how the church didn't want it getting out that the sun didn't revolve around the earth. Because once that shit was out...

  • Pro Libertate||

    Wait, we don't need Leviathan to succeed? How can that be?

  • Paul.||

    Don't be mean.

  • Paul.||

    Father Obama: We haven't seen you in church, lately!

    Public: Fuck you, I read that Copernicus shit... I'm never goin' back to church!

  • Murgatroyd||

    I suppose we can always dream...

  • Copernicus||

    Glad to be of service

  • ||

    Another upside is that Obama is really setting the stage to make entitlement reform the ONLY cuts he can credibly offer.

    Once sequestration goes through and the Democrats are all howling that discretionary spending has be slashed to the bare bones, where does the rest of the "balanced approach" come from?

    Are they really going to propose nothing but "revenue increases"?
    The only thing they CAN do is put entitlement reform on the table, otherwise they aren't advocating a balanced approach anymore, they're only offering more taxes.

  • IceTrey||

    I'm confused. I thought the debt ration was already at 95%.

  • R C Dean||

    Depends on if you count intra-governmental debt (mainly the various "trust funds" for SocSec, Medicare, etc.).

  • R C Dean||

    Are they really going to propose nothing but "revenue increases"?

    Why not? Its what they've done, to electoral acclaim, for the past year or so. No reason to stop now that I can see.

  • James Sinclair||

    Automated, unthinking across-the-board cuts may not be the best way to reduce the country's dependence on a stumbling federal government

    I'm kind of starting to think it is. No haggling over which programs are more essential (because, inevitably, it turns out to be all of them), no cronyism, no pet causes being protected for bullshit reasons. I like that this is going to affect virtually every part of the federal government, and I can't wait to watch as chaos fails to ensue.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement