Move Over Zombies, it's the Sequester Apocalypse!
The federal government recently had to make do with 17% less of its bureaucracy for a couple of weeks. Some may recognize this event by its more common, but less accurate name: the government "shutdown." While legislators were jockeying for position and making various demands in the face of the looming debt ceiling crisis, one of the demands that surfaced was to end the sequestration which went into effect on March 1 of this year. For those who don't remember what sequestration is: that was the name given to the mandatory budget cuts enacted as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. For those who don't remember the Budget Control Act of 2011, it was colloquially referred to as "the debt ceiling crisis" (the other one), the aversion of which saw sequestration as part of the deal made to raise the debt ceiling. Again.
Though sequestration was put on the negotiating table, the "shutdown," which I will keep referring to in quotes, ended and the debt ceiling was raised without likewise scrapping sequestration, insofar as a budget cut can be said to end. However, the brief resurgence of the topic gave opponents of sequestration the opportunity to once again come out against it. As the date neared, the level of demagoguery that characterized the previous debates repeated as opponents of the mandatory budget cuts spoke of the impact on the economy in apocalyptic terms.
A recent CNN Money article claims that since sequester was allowed to continue through January of next year, harm is being done to the economy. It cites the Bipartisan Policy Center's dire warning: "The full brunt of the cuts hasn't hit, and if we go down the sequester path for too long, we won't be able to reverse the devastating impacts."
The article, which you're free to read for yourself, decries the calamity befalling the sick with the layoff of hundreds of medical research jobs and depicting on the page an image of the recipients of "Comprehensive HIV Services" with the caption, "Sick feel pinch from sequester cuts." It laments the cruel starvation of the elderly by slashing Meals on Wheels. And of course it evokes giant crocodile tears as it mourns the abandonment of 57,000 poor, saintly children by purging the innocent little souls from the rolls of the Head Start daycare program, leaving them, presumably, to beg in the streets, orphaned and penniless.
I deliberately use such melodramatic language to highlight the nature of the stance taken against the budget cuts. Although cuts to the military are discussed at the end of the article, the focus is on those things which make an emotional appeal. Additionally, and incredibly, the article's author, Jennifer Liberto, even circuitously insinuates that the sequester is unconstitutional by noting that the cuts "undermined federal public defenders' ability to defend those accused of federal crimes -- a constitutional right for those who can't afford a lawyer."
But wait a minute. Sequestration cut $80 billion. 2013 federal expenditures topped $3.68 trillion. That means that sequestration forced the government to reduce its budget by 2%. This is called "devastating." For the sake of illustration, try applying this to yourself. Let's say you have $100 and with this you're going to take your family to dinner. You arrive at the restaurant and check your wallet, only to discover that you have only $98, whereupon you begin shrieking incoherently that you can't possibly feed your family on $98. Your family will starve! You're destitute! You're now forced to live under a bridge and eat garbage!
Pretty stupid, yes?
Yet this is the stance that opponents of sequestration (and of any reduction in federal expenditures) take. Proponents of government control and increased government spending presuppose that only the federal government can care for the sick, the elderly, or the innocent little children. The federal government needs this money. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi herself proclaimed this year that there is nothing left in the budget that can be cut. We've cut every last cent and we can't possibly do without a penny less.
Such a statement is preposterous on its face. It supposes that the federal government is running on an immaculately lean budget, that there is no waste, and that every government program is absolutely vital. Furthermore, it supposes that there are no state, local, or charitable programs to care for the sick, the elderly, and the children.
Let's take it a step further. Not only did sequestration represent only 2% of FY13 expenditures, but the $3.7 trillion the federal government spent in FY13 is still 4% ($140 billion) more than it spent in FY12! Twice as much as was cut from sequestration. How did we ever manage? And get ready for this. Are you sitting down? The $3.68 trillion from which Pelosi said there is nothing left to cut is 70% higher (a whopping $1.52 trillion) than it was a mere decade ago. If we're running on fumes at $3.68 trillion, it's a miracle that we managed to get here from that stone age of the 2000s without collapsing under the weight of our own destitution.
Do you see what I'm getting at?
Yes, when the federal government spends money, someone, somewhere is benefitted. But there is no need to believe that if the federal government doesn't spend that money, that people cannot yet benefit. In fact, there is every reason to believe that more people will benefit in more ways when the government limits its own spending and provides a stable, reliable economic framework for people to provide for themselves and one another. The government is failing to do this. The government has saddled our $17 trillion economy with over $100 trillion in debt ($17 trillion in current debt plus $87 trillion in unfunded liabilities). If the government does not reverse course -- if it continues along its path of spending exponentially increasing amounts and continuing to raise the debt ceiling to sate its appetite, then we truly will have an economic apocalypse.