COLORADO SPRINGS, CO, March 3, 2013 — The level of apocalyptic rhetoric coming from the left over spending cuts is almost unbelievable. From the president: We’ll have to cut police, firefighters and teachers. (Washington doesn’t fund any of those.) From Maxine Waters (D-CA43): We’ll lose 170 million jobs. (There are only 135 million total jobs in the country.) You will be delayed at the airport because there will be fewer TSA agents and fewer Air Traffic Controllers. (Fewer of the Thousands Standing Around might be a good thing.)
The sky didn’t fall Friday, or yesterday or today. The people aren’t buying it and little wonder: The majority of the population aren’t even paying attention to the sequester debate. Despite all the rhetoric, a majority understand that the sequester only cuts the rate of growth of spending – it is not a real cut at all.
The graphic says it all. The “cuts” are miniscule. If you look at the increases in government spending throughout the chart, the only increase comparable to 2009 was in 1943. Those 2009 spending increases—both in the budget and the stimulus—gave rise to the Tea Party protests. Four years later the huge increases have been stopped but only this small reduction in spending is moving us in the right direction.
If this is a tempest in a teacup, why all the hype? Why the political kabuki dance?
It’s not really about the cuts at all. It is setting up the next round in the budget battle.
The problem is that we, like Britain, are heading back into recession. Growth in the fourth quarter of 2012 was 0.1 percent. The Great Recession is turning into the Great Depression Deux. The parallels with Roosevelt’s second term are striking. Desperate to avoid the blame and another electoral clobbering in the 2014 mid-term elections, the president is proactively blaming these tiny spending cuts for what everyone knows is coming.
If the messaging is successful, the benefits for big government statists are twofold. First, they avoid the electoral defeat in 2014 and second, further spending cuts are avoided. If this drop in the bucket passes without incident, the path is open for more to follow.
Electoral defeat in 2014 would be disaster for the left. If control of the senate changes hands, a unified Congress can use the power of the purse to control spending. It has been done before: either to allow spending (Johnson, Obama I), force spending (Nixon), or control spending (Clinton).
Most Republicans are fairly clueless in this game. Instead of scrutinizing spending, some in the senate are even willing to give the president more discretion in the hope that, should the pain appear anyway, they can pin it on him. The problem is, the pain won’t appear but the additional power will be real and lasting. Besides, that reasoning is too much inside baseball for a public that doesn’t seem very engaged in the first place.
Instead of imposing less control, Congress should be exercising more. It used to be that department and agency heads were called before Congress to explain their spending. Wisconsin Democrat Senator William Proxmire gave out a Golden Fleece award for wasteful spending. When was the last time that anyone from the administration was called before Congress to explain their spending?
In fact, where is the administration’s budget at all? Not submitted.
So brace for impact. The cuts, tiny as they are, will be made as painful as possible to punish the public for not opposing them. Politicians have been playing that game since the Proposition 13 tax revolt in California in 1978.
One way or the other, the chickens will come home to roost. Either Chicken Little will be seen to be right, according to the narrative being planted now, or we will finally begin the process of recovering fiscal sanity.
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