|And not only that, HALF the cuts will come|
from the DEFENSE Budget!
Now, of course, these cuts specified by the sequestration language are looming, and legislators are beginning to panic. The fantasy has always been that you could find a trillion dollars worth of government spending in tiny, painless pieces, using a scalpel to cut away insignificant bits until the totality of the effort arrives at the stated goal. This is why politicians, even those most vocal about reducing spending, are hesitant or downright unwilling to specify what programs they'd cut, and by how much. This is the reason that both the Paul Ryan budget and the Romney campaign's economic agenda come with giant "magic asterisks". They specify tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations in minute detail, and then proclaim those cuts to be revenue neutral on the basis of spending cuts to be determined by Congress in the future. And then you get a pony.
So the race is on, in both houses of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, to find a way to make the automatic spending cuts, especially those to defense programs, disappear. Because, as we all clearly understand, none of these legislators actually cares about the deficit. The deficit serves as a boogieman, the thing that is preventing economic growth, the horrible monster that will eat your children, the primary threat to America's future. It is a political construct - certainly, it needs to be managed, but like Social Security, it is neither an immediate nor an existential crisis.
I'm of two minds about this. First and foremost, I believe that when a legislative negotiation is concluded on the basis of a kind of self-blackmail, where awful things are set in motion if an agreement isn't reached, then certainly the hapless body that found itself at such loggerheads should have to live with that agreement. Surely they had to know that this outcome was at least possible, and yet they voted for it anyway - did they have their fingers crossed all along? Did they never really believe that they would allow the cuts to be implemented anyway, so it was a painless and cost free method of kicking the can down the road? On the other hand, the entire concept of planting land mines in your own agreements so everyone will have to actually DO something is odious and unbecoming. If Congress backs away from implementing sequestration as it was agreed to, we can be certain that it will never again be used as a way to forge a pointless and temporary agreement, and just might, in the end, have served a useful purpose.
There is something pathetic about a legislative body so paralyzed by ideology and political caution that they feel they have to threaten themselves with an unacceptable outcome in order to even believe they might then act, but when even that threat isn't enough to create agreement, you have a quintessentially crippled legislative system. And now, confronted with the failure of their own last-ditch effort to compel their own action, they back down from their own threats against themselves. We can describe our national problems in political, economic or social terms, and those descriptions would be accurate, but underlying it all is a systematic failure so fundamental as to be insolvable. And that, more than anything else, is why we're doomed.