The Right Opinion

Exiting the Road to Ruin

By Edwin J. Feulner · Feb. 26, 2013

“Sequester.” It’s a word that used to come up rarely. It nearly always referred to a jury being locked away to deliberate a verdict.

Now it’s all over the news, a stand-in for the automatic spending cuts scheduled to hit the federal budget Friday. The only jury is an American public that has grown all too accustomed to seeing politicians dodge the tough choices necessary to bring spending under control.

“There will be no easy offramps on this one,” one senior statesman said as he defended sequestration in November 2011. “We need to keep the pressure up to compromise, not turn off the pressure. The only way these spending cuts will not take place is if Congress gets back to work and agrees on a balanced plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion. That’s exactly what they need to do. That’s the job they promised to do, and they’ve still got a year to at least figure it out.”

That year has come and gone. Sequestration looms. What do we hear now? “These cuts are not smart,” one politician said recently. “They are not fair. They will hurt our economy.”

Who said that? President Obama. Who was the “senior statesman” quoted above? President Obama.

He was very emphatic 14 months ago. “Already some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts,” he said. “My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending.”

Quite a switch, even by Washington standards. There must be skid marks all over the road from that U-turn.

Can spending be reduced more responsibly? Of course it can. Sequestration is a blunt instrument, a jagged tool that makes across-the-board cuts. Some of the president’s favorite programs will be hit as surely as some of his opponents'. It falls most heavily on defense; fully half the cuts would affect national security. In an increasingly dangerous world, that’s highly irresponsible, to say the least.

If lawmakers refuse to make more responsible cuts, though, then sequestration is doing exactly what it was designed to do: force some needed reductions (albeit indiscriminate ones) in a budget that is flooded with red ink.

How bad is it? At current levels, federal spending is set to almost double over the next 10 years, from $3.6 trillion to $5.9 trillion. For all of the howling over sequestration, that looming ax is set to fall on only 2.2 percent of the total amount. Worse, the biggest and fastest-growing part of the budget is nearly exempt: entitlement programs.

“Social Security and Medicare are unaffordable in their current forms,” budget analysts J.D. Foster and Alison Acosta Fraser note. “When this year’s kindergartners enter college, just 13 years away, spending on these two programs plus Medicaid and interest on the debt will devour all tax revenue.”

There are several steps Congress can take to address this problem. For one, they can reduce the Medicare subsidy for upper-income beneficiaries. It makes sense to subsidize benefits for low-income seniors, and perhaps for some middle-income seniors, but why are taxpayers being asked to give wealthy seniors a $5,000 subsidy to buy Medicare health insurance?

In the meantime, however, there are many sensible cuts Congress could make to achieve the same level of spending reductions mandated by sequestration. Why not drag Community Development Block Grants under the scalpel? Many of the $3 billion in grants from this program go to economically well-off communities that don’t need them. Then there’s the Job Corps. According to budget analyst Patrick Louis Knudsen, it squanders $1.7 billion on “a demonstrably ineffective program that has failed to match many of its trainees with the jobs they were trained for.”

No, Mr. President, there are no “easy offramps” on this one. But policymakers can’t keep refusing to exit the budget highway altogether, stuck in an endless loop of escalating spending hikes. Sooner or later, they’re going to run out of gas, i.e., our money. The smart money is on sooner.

9 Comments

Master Gunny in Tifton GA said:

The frightening thing is that Obama wins either way. Any deleterious effects on the economy will be tagged to Republicans; the press will see to that. If reductions in entitlements are agreed upon he still get to blame Republicans and claim to be the hero for compromising. The DoD has always been Obama's target so reductions at a modest 10 percent can be portrayed as "devastating" even though it was Obama's target all along.

As long as the media control the message there is no way that Obama can lose. The American people are too worried about who will next appear on Dancing with the Stars to care about the truth or the direction this country is heading.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 12:43 PM

HP in Kalispell, MT said:

Mac, right on, as usual. I think a better bet would be to start taking out the editors of the Drive-by media. Probably wouldn't take many before their ideas started changing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 1:22 PM

READY4ACHANGE in ILLINOIS said:

Let the sequester happen.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 2:41 PM

Jim in Clinton, UT said:

Ed, I am not what you would call wealthy, but I do have a livable income. This is the first I have heard of a $5000 subsidy to buy Medicare insurance. I am on Medicare, I have paid for it and continue to pay for it each month, mostly by paying more into the system that I am using. Please explain!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 2:52 PM

HP in Kalispell, MT replied:

I'd like an explanation too.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 3:08 PM

Orf in Pittsburgh replied:

Me too, and I rarely draw any money from Medicare. I almost feel obliged to get sick! It's like life insurance -- it doesn't pay off until something bad happens to you.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 4:30 PM

Orf in Pittsburgh said:

All this talk about cutting spending and we are sending F-16 jet fighters to our enemies in Egypt. Do you think this could be a result of the makers of high cost military equipment, the ones who pay big money to get the corrupt politicians reelected over and over? What do the pols care about who gets what when the really most important thing to them is reelection for life.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 4:34 PM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

More Marxist moldy bread from the mouths of pagan reprobates and Demokrats, who kould not help amerika, if they tried!!!Cut big gov down to Constitutional size.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 6:22 PM

Autumn in Lewiston Idaho said:

Obama is a hate monger.
If he really wanted to stop this sequestration, he would stay in office and work the phones.
Instead he's on holday spending millons of taxpayers money and taking more road trips to nurse his ego.
I know liberals who don't watch the news
They watch talk shows like the View instead and barely even know about the sequestration or about the spiraling debt.
It's scary that these people vote. Women who write letters to murderers in prison vote.
No wonder Obama was re-elected.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 10:16 PM