Politics Magazine

The Sequester: Where the Buck Stops

Posted on the 27 February 2013 by Fsrcoin

Speaking of reality (or not), the President is going around telling horror stories about the “sequester’s” March 1 budget cuts, and blaming Republicans because they resist raising taxes on the rich.

The reality is that the cuts will happen only because Obama himself insists on such tax hikes. Yet taxes aren’t even part of the sequester (which, incidentally, Obama himself originally ushered into place) — it only concerns spending, and Republicans are willing to compromise on spending. But Obama refuses unless he gets another round of tax hikes into the bargain. Remember, Republicans did already agree to raise taxes on the rich, just weeks ago, in the fiscal cliff deal. In fact, they agreed without any compensatory spending concessions (big mistake). But now Obama demands even more.

Dark red = 2009-12; bright red = 2013-22

Dark red = 2009-12; bright red = 2013-22

If the cuts are as awful as he says, then it’s his responsibility to avert them. After all, he’s president. As Truman said, “the buck stops here.” Passing it to Republicans doesn’t wash, if the problem can be solved simply by Obama relenting in his monomania on taxes. But he thinks “tax the rich” continues to work for him politically, and he won’t drop it.

Furthermore, as head of the government, he could do plenty to prevent sequestration’s worst impacts; but instead he actually seems intent on heightening the pain, believing he’ll get away with blaming Republicans. This is all political theater, aimed at Democrats retaking the House in 2014, reviving their otherwise unpassable legislative agenda.

It’s tempting to actually welcome the sequester as at least achieving what Washington has been so incapable of: cutting spending. Unfortunately, it’s entirely the wrong way to go about it, indiscriminately cutting across-the-board rather than sensibly prioritizing. For example, as I’ve said, the Defense budget is way over-bloated, but the sequester will target the muscle equally with the fat.

Meantime it will hardly touch the real heart of our budgetary mess: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. But at least this does cast a spotlight on the fix we’re in. So sacred are these cows that they were largely exempted even from the sequester’s otherwise “across-the-board” cuts. Concentrating those cuts on lesser non-entitlement discretionary spending intensifies the effect there. But even so, these cuts are still a tiny percentage. That it’s so contentious to cut even this little bit from such a huge budget shows the depth of the problem.

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What we need is a long term plan to get deficits into manageable territory by reforming entitlements, mainly by constraining benefits for the affluent. The President isn’t interested. Without this, entitlements are on track to swamp the budget and eventually crowd out all other expenditures. The sequester gives us a small foretaste of that future. We’ll wind up with a government confined mainly to sending out benefit checks, able to afford little else.

This will be the supremely ironic endgame for the liberal dream of muscular government fixing all problems and righting all wrongs.


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