- - Monday, March 18, 2013

Washington’s “snowquester” — the snowstorm that wasn’t — is the perfect metaphor for sequestration’s nonexistent impact. Both episodes are rightfully causing Americans to ask: What gives? Unlike the little boy who cried “wolf,” in this instance, Washington isn’t necessarily trying to fool anyone. It apparently sees a wolf no one else does.

For days leading up to the recent storm, Washington weather stations heralded the approach of a large snowstorm. As it drew near, its projected impact seemed to increase. Before long, it had its own sobriquet, “the snowquester.” Washington panicked and shut down. Flights, schools and, of course, the federal government — seemingly everything was closed.

The problem was, the storm failed to live up to its billing. Some snow fell, but didn’t stick. Still, Washington didn’t work. It was stuck — with an army of responders waiting on something needing no response.

The rest of the country — at least, that part not too busy working to notice — must have looked on incredulously. Naturally, the Snow Belt, for whom a snowfall is assumed to mean an accumulation, had to have been mystified. Even the snow-free sections had to wonder how this warranted a federal day off.

The sequestration, for whom this non-blizzard was aptly named, is uncannily similar. Ballyhooed by broadcasts, President Obama and many in Congress for weeks, it too appears to be another overhyped production. It is just a 2.4 percent reduction in federal spending — $85 billion from more than $3.5 trillion, $845 billion of which is projected to be deficit spending. This after four years of $3 trillion-plus spending and $1 trillion deficits.

Wall Street, itself hardly shy about sounding alarms, hardly noticed, except to hit an all-time high — and has continued to do so.

If there is any real fallout, it seems to be political, not economic. Mr. Obama’s Gallup-measured approval rating dropped to 46 percent over the weekend after sequestration’s start.

For an America that has been sacrificing while Washington has been spending, confusion over sequestration must be no less than that over the snowquester. In both, America sees Washington borrowing without consequences on one hand and getting paid for not working on the other — which ordinary Americans cannot get away with.

Everywhere else in America, people have been working without raises for years and are grateful to have a job, or jobs, because they know someone who doesn’t. If they don’t work, they don’t get paid, because in the private sector, if you don’t make money, you can’t just raise taxes and take it away from someone else.

Americans send far too much of what they make to Washington, which still can’t make ends meet. Even with a surfeit of spending and borrowing, Washington can’t get by because it can’t budget.

The wonder is that the American people are only appalled and not apoplectic.

Both the snowquester and sequestration demonstrate the depth of Washington’s disconnect from the country it governs. It is not just that Washington cries “wolf,” it genuinely thinks that the wolf that no one else can see is real.

That is the most disheartening thing of all: To see Washington cower before the challenges that the rest of America routinely confronts everyday.

J.T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.