Budget Deficit

Go Ahead, Pull the Trigger

Why the Super Committee should allow its automatic deficit-reduction mechanism to work.


History shows that Congress can't be trusted to control spending, much less cut it. Neither can the bipartisan committees it so often creates to reduce the deficit when Congress has failed. But what about automatic spending cuts scheduled to occur when the committee process inevitably fails? Sadly, they can't be entirely trusted either. But they might still be the best hope we have.

This summer's long-haggled debt deal called for the creation of a bipartisan "Super Committee" tasked with finding and recommending $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade. The process itself was intended to be relatively speedy, at least by Washington standards. Recommendations were due by Thanksgiving, and Congress would be required to vote up or down by the end of the year. At least, that is, if the recommendations ever arrived.

It was a familiar ploy—designate a bipartisan committee to make tough decisions behind closed doors that legislators had proven otherwise unwilling to make, pat yourselves on the back for having taken action, then hope no one one notices when the committee fails to agree on savings. In fact, it was so familiar that Congress had to create a fallback mechanism designed to reassure people that it was serious this time.

That mechanism became known as a "trigger"—an automatic budget cut of about $1.1 trillion to a wide variety of spending programs, including Medicare and defense, set to take place automatically. These cuts, which are made through a process known as sequestration, in which previously authorized spending is withheld from agencies, are often referred to as "across-the-board-cuts." But as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) points out, a number of major programs, including Social Security and Medicaid, are exempt from the cuts, and the trend has been to categorize more and more spending as protected over the years.

No one knows exactly what sort of cuts would come from a sequester. The CBO admits its estimates are imperfect because the actual process would be managed by the administration, which hasn't released detailed plans. The following chart, prepared by Mercatus Center Senior Research Fellow and Reason columnist Veronique de Rugy, shows what the cuts might look like:

Sequester me, baby.

Despite the steady wave of protections and carve outs, the hope is that the prospect of Medicare cuts will motivate Democrats to deal while potential defense spending reductions will put the fear of God—or at least Lockheed Martin—into Republicans.

Buried in this idea is the assumption that such reductions are somehow unthinkable. But these are hardly dramatic cuts. Some Democrats have cried foul about the potential Medicare cuts, but they're capped at 2 percent, which would barely make a dent in the program's rapidly growing spending.

Republicans, meanwhile, are up in arms about the fact that the biggest cuts would come from the defense budget. Earlier this month, GOP members of the House Armed Service Committee issued just a single, predictable recommendation to the deficit panel: Don't cut defense spending. "We've gone past cutting into the muscle. And if these other hits come from the trigger, if the super committee is not able to do their work, and the sequestration cuts in we're into the bone and it's all over," Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon said.

But the maximum total cut possible cut to the defense budget is about $850 billion by 2021. The effect would be to leave the United States responsible for 40 percent of total global military spending, while returning defense spending back to levels not seen since the dark days of…2007. Does anyone actually believe we were defenseless in 2007—or that we'd become so by capping defense spending at 2007 levels over the coming decade?

Even with the sequester, though, America may remain defenseless against endless spending increases. Republicans are already attempting to get the Super Committee to accept a troop drawdown—a now-classic budget gimmick that calls for the Congressional Budget Office to score overseas troop reductions that were already scheduled to occur—in place of actual defense cuts.

Nor is the history very reassuring. A similar attempt to reduce the deficit through sequestration in the 1980s failed to reach its budget targets. And as Stan Collender, author of The Guide to the Federal Budget, pointed out in August, budget deals don't have a very strong track record. Indeed, he notes, they have "always been changed, waived, ignored or abandoned long before they were scheduled to expire."

The ideal outcome from the Super Committee would be a deal to reduce spending even more than the sequestration process calls for. But with predictable gridlock between panel members over taxes and entitlements already setting in, that doesn't seem likely. Sequestration may not be perfect, but, even with its limitations, it's probably the best plausible result. So go ahead, Super Committee. Pull that trigger.

Peter Suderman is an associate editor at Reason magazine.

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  1. EMPIRE NIGHTMARE ? The lost American Dream

    Now, according to Michael Mandelbaum a professor of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, their was a contract that was written in [1776] by the Founding Fathers of the [USA] United States of America, but was torn to shreds, with the establishment of the American-Israeli Military Industrial Complex ? the [EMPIRE] at the end of the Dwight David Eisenhower Era. And, that contract had [5] components;


    Wider opportunities for education in order to produce a workforce with cutting-edge skills funds for research and development to expand the frontiers of knowledge in ways that generate new products: Well that’s gone and has been for some time, but is being cut even more today, unless you’re a jock on steroids, looking for those big contracts after taking basket weaving in college paid for alumni members of the college, or were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and or government minority program based on minority status only, or even better were students in foreign countries into which [EMPIRE] armed forces have been placed for Economic Stimulus, make good little [EMPIRE] supports out of. Most schools just passed you out the door and into the arms of waiting military recruiters, at best or on to the streets are worst, just holding pens for the lower class, If you don’t care if you pass, show up for attendance, and leave for the state to provide school funding, If you just want a passing grade sit in the back, and don’t bother anyone, show up and attend class, the rest if you want top grades sit in the front and participate. But don’t feel sorry for those that only showed for headcount we learned on the streets, the code of silence, loyalty to the group organization, today the Russian Mob sets the standard of that educational structure, the tattoos, showing the grades of achievement level, when a debt is owed it will be paid.

    [Investment in infrastructure]

    Investment in infrastructure ? roads, power plants, and ports ? that supports commerce: That is if that infrastructure is say, new twin air strips on Okinawa, to undermind the defense of the [PRC] Peoples Republic of China, or power plants or chemical plants in say India, where the their are no unions and the cost of labor is cheap, or Pakistan so military equipment can flow to the battlefronts in Afghanistan. A Nuclear Power Plant and electrical national grid system, by all means but not in my backyard or community, opening up access to La Jolla for the mass other than private transportation, and let the rabble in, no public access is not really necessary.


    An immigration policy that attracts and retains talented people from beyond America’s borders: Well the best immigration policy is one based upon the ability to swim either in shark infested salt water or rapidly flowing Rio Grande fress water, without the aide of a cajote thru an under boarder tunnel also used for drug smuggling, at one time but with the closure of many State Parks well the parks are being put to profitable use, why less them go to waste, they make good campground living for fellons that can’t find shelder elsewhere for having been fellons, illegals until the can find sanctuary in a sancturary city and jobs, not to mention drug farms. Why stand in line and waste time upon government bureaucrats.

    [Business Regulations]

    Business regulations strong enough to prevent financial system meltdowns, yet not so strict or stringent as to stifle the risk-taking and innovation that produce growth: The fact is that this is a nice idea, but it is often said and is understood that business has never, does not, and will never achieve sucess without cutting corners, its not so much the idea that those who sat at the front of the class didn’t learn about how a business works but the consequences for not running a tightly run ship or organization, for those who gained a street education, such as the Japanese a mistake maybe just the loss of a finger, and in some organization you end up sleeping with the fish. The main difference between street organizations and market organizations is the cost of failure, and disloyality to the organization. The gold spoon to the golden parachute for one, sleeping in the back of the class to sleeping with the fish for the other.

    [Cutting the Nose off your face or fingers off you hand]

    Now Michael Mandelbaum, is a smart guy, and is correct that the [EMPIRE] has decided to cut the nose off its own face, or as he puts it [Reducing the deficit by cutting funds for education, infrastructure, and research and development is akin to trying to lose weight by cutting off three fingers. Most of the weight will remain, and one’s life prospects will have worsened significantly]. Welcome to back of the class, the Nighmare of those who get their education on the streets the real school of hard knocks.


      1. That’s a mistake. I treasure these moments with Hercule.

  2. There’s no question in my mind that the government will nullify the “automatic” cuts. The only thing to be worked out is what song-and-dance will be used to “prove” that the politicians haven’t punked out yet again.

    1. Bread and circuses! We had to do it so we could pay for all of the bread and circuses that our constituents demand of us!

      1. …placate the victims of privation property.

      2. Their bread is moldy and their circuses are lame. The lions just lay around and fart, and the clowns aren’t funny.

        1. …of the capitalist scam.

          In the age of the internet, victims of capitalist greed must be placated well.

    2. …placate the victims of the big-government Land enTItlement program.

      Georgism (geoism) is the answer.

      Georgism (also called Geoism and Geonomics) is an economic philosophy and ideology that holds that people own what they create, but that things found in nature, most importantly land, belongs equally to all.

      Even William F. Buckley knew it.

      William F. Buckley the Georgist

      1. Ok I’ll bit white indian. Under this so called Georgism, what happens say if I want to create a wooden chair or bed, naturally I won’t keep it in one spot I’ll move it around; obviously the chair or bed is mine, but what if I want to chop down a tree for wood? What if someone else says no you can’t chop down that tree because I don’t want you too? And knowing Human nature this sort of conflict is an inevitablity. One of us will start to claim ownership of that tree. To think otherwise isn’t realisitc. And saying that the tree belongs to everybody or no one is just code word for saying it belongs to the state.

          1. …addresses rent-seeking for natural resources that should be a human’s birthright.

            How is it that a child born on the earth must pay other humans rent to eat and survive?

            Capitalism is slavery!

            1. Or just die already.

              “The free market means that those without money to buy what they need do not have the right to live.” – John McMurtry

            2. Children born on earth must be cute enough to convince their parents that feeding them is a good idea.

        1. No. Don’t feed this troll. It doesn’t have an actual point. It doesn’t want to actually discuss anything. It just wants to be fed. So don’t feed it.

          1. Shorter CrackertyAssCracker:

            “I’ve got nothing in rebuttal.”

      2. I considered myself a Georgist (considering it the least insidious of all forms of taxation) until White Indian embraced it.

        I now feel guilt by association.

        (I used to read newsletters from the Henry George society as a kid. One of my mother’s friends was a member. No idea why; she was a shut-in who never left her house.)

      3. Georgism still assumes those invisible lines that denote individual control of areas of land (to avoid the tragedy of the commons problem, etc.), it just requires payment of taxes. You know, like many states and cities do right now. If you’re suggesting we get rid of all taxes other than on land, shit, go for it. I got your back.

    3. There’s no question in my mind that the government will nullify the “automatic” cuts.

      Exactly. I think that there will be an agreement though. The agreement will be a big pile of steaming pile of dog shit that will have more gimmicks than a rube goldberg machine.

  3. Oh. The worthless faux Justice League.

    The one with Crab-Face Boy in it.

  4. Is the disheveled gruff amputee an improvement over the effeminate Hanna Barbara version?

  5. I never believed they would agree. The trigger provides cover to both sides when their benefactors don’t get what they paid for.

    AND it’s a great way to make some cash from lobbyists in the mean time.

    It’s 1789 Paris folks… why aren’t we taking heads?


    1. Well, government lobbying just got a whole lot more efficient since only 12 people need to be lobbied, not 535.

      Why don’t we just go to a super-committee of 1 person who is also the President? We could call it a “super-chairman”. Or a “super-chancellor.”

      1. “Why don’t we just go to a super-committee of 1 person who is also the President?”
        I can think of a *lot* of reasons!

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  6. The Seven > The Justice League

  7. Does anyone actually believe we were defenseless in 2007?

    No. But what we were is badly overextended, with a whole lot of troops serving way more time overseas than they should. In 2007 spending was insufficient to the mission, and the difference was made up by squeezing volunteers in the armed forces (and at home). That’s not a reasonable long-term plan.

    If you really want to go back to 2007 levels of spending, you also need to go back to 1999 levels of force commitment.

    By me the real obscenity here is protecting Medicaid and disability SS from sequestration. Those are both charity programs, providing disability checks monthly to 44-year-old women “too depressed” to work, and paying for their kid’s trip to the ER to manage the sniffly nose and 102 fever because, helas!, with no work comes no health insurance and no regular doc.

    Military defense, whether higher or lower than “reasonable,” whatever that might be, is a duty of the Federal government under the Constitution. Charity for the citizens of the several states is not.

    Medicaid and disability SS should be terminated entirely, as these are state and local responsibilities. They are, furthermore, the fastest-growing entitlements, much faster than old-age pensions or Medicare.

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  8. As if cuts of $120 billion per year mean diddley-squat. Reducing Federal spending – some Federal spending, by less than 10% per year doesn’t get the job done. Think about your own household budgets. If you were borrowing 40% of your current expenditures and had reached the point where your debt repayment equalled over 50% of your income (non-borrowed), would a measley 10% reduction per year do anything for you? No. So why in hell do you think it will do anything for the Feds? Or for us? ‘Business as usual’ is in charge. Vote out all the incumbents, except maybe those who were elected in ’10, vote for Cain & Paul – choose either one for Prexy and the other for Vice – and just kick out the country club Republicans and the communists who are in the Democratic party and get the nation back up on its feet. Or not and watch it melt slowly into a nation that looks like Detroit.

  9. The comic is very lively

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