EDITORIAL: Sequestration follies

Washington must cut a lot more than $85 billion

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Here we go again. Lawmakers are once more warning that the nation hangs on the brink of unimaginable disaster. Another cliff, you might say. Five days from now automatic budget restraint is scheduled to take effect, and nothing frightens a politician more than restraint on spending. It was put into place after President Obama refused to agree to a plan for more responsible reductions. To enhance the theatrics, this reduction goes by the intimidating name of sequestration. The only problem with sequestration is that it doesn’t restrain enough.

Mr. Obama wants us to believe otherwise and tries to strike terror among the ordinary and the easily frightened. “Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country,” the president prophesied in a scary speech last week. “Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids.” It’s a dire litany, a tale of a great boogeyman lurking to duel with hairy creatures of the night. But the actual dollar figures involved are trivial. When all is said and done, at the end of the day, in the great by and by — choose your cliche — there will be no actual cuts.

The sequestration is supposed to trim $85 billion in spending in a budget that proposes to spend $3.8 trillion. That would be a 2.2 percent cut, except it’s not the end of the story. In the first few months of the current fiscal year, federal spending has already increased $42 billion. So by year’s end, 2013 spending is likely to exceed 2012’s, even after the sequestration. That’s exactly what has happened year-after-year since Mr. Obama first moved into the Oval Office. Annual spending is almost $1 trillion higher than it was in the most profligate year of his predecessor.

Nonetheless, Republicans allow Mr. Obama to get away with such stretchers as: “Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce our deficits by more than $2.5 trillion.” Washington insiders refer to reductions in planned spending as “cuts” or “reductions” when they’re actually increases. It’s a deception meant to give the illusion of progress when there isn’t any, and the fiscal situation grows ever more dire. We must always watch their language.

Republican leaders prefer to campaign on illusory accomplishments than to tell the truth: There are no cuts on the table. Government growth will continue. The Congressional Budget Office puts the issue into perspective. The government will spend $47.2 trillion over the next decade. Out of this, the full $1.2 trillion sequestration, assuming it actually happens, represents a 2.5 percent reduction. What that means is, instead of borrowing $7 trillion from future generations, as previously planned, politicians will only add $5.8 trillion to the national debt. That’s what passes for responsibility in Washington.

Mr. Obama skewed the sequestration so the military takes a $42.7 billion hit in one year, which will produce an honest-to-goodness cut in national defense. But the sky will hardly fall on the rest of the government. In fact, any reduction in the number of blue-gloved Transportation Security Administration agents groping children at the airport, or Energy Department agents clearing real light bulbs off store shelves, will make America a stronger nation.

Republicans make a costly mistake allowing an expansion in the size and scope of government to be described as a “dramatic cut.” Spending must drop by $7 trillion to bring the books back into balance. America should settle for no less than it deserves.

The Washington Times

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