Friday, February 22, 2013

Sequestration Panic

Sequestration panic is starting to tick me off. Let the sequestration arrows fly.

We should be insulted by the president's dire predictions of reducing the rate of growth of our government by a very small amount this year under sequestration. The president and his supporters always trot out huge numbers to describe "cuts" that reflect a decade of reducing spending below planned increases. This is ridiculous:

If the sequester goes into effect, the federal budget for this year will still be larger than last year’s ($3.553 trillion in 2013 vs. $3.538 trillion in 2012). With the sequester in effect, federal non-defense spending will still be 10 percent higher than it was in 2008. But Washington, led by Obama but with GOP help, is telling the American people that unless government gets an even bigger raise (with money borrowed from China, by the way), civilization will unravel, 911 calls will go unanswered, and Bane shall irrevocably seize control of Gotham.

The federal government has grown inexorably for decades. Our president casts himself as a Solomonic manager, and yet he is saying that absent a few extra pennies on every dollar, there’s no way he can maintain government’s core functions? A manager in any other field of human endeavor would be fired on the spot for making such an argument. But in Washington, this passes for leadership.

If the administration can't handle this trifling reduction in the growth of spending without letting people die, then their whole strutting boast about their competence to govern is a farce.

The Defense Department seems to be participating in this blackmail, too:

There's no doubt President Obama is using the so-called Washington Monument maneuver in the fight with Republicans over sequestration budget cuts. It's a time-honored tactic of bureaucratic warfare: When faced with cuts, pick the best-known and most revered symbol of government and threaten to shut it down. Close the Washington Monument and say, "See? This is what happens when you cut the budget." Meanwhile, all sorts of other eminently cuttable government expenditures go untouched.

So now Obama is warning of drastic cuts in food safety, air traffic control, police and fire protection -- in all sorts of services that will allegedly be slashed if the rate of growth of some parts of the federal budget is slowed.

But perhaps the biggest example of the Washington Monument maneuver is coming from the Defense Department, where it goes by another name. Over many decades of defense budget battles, the Pentagon has often used a tactic known as a "gold watch." It means to answer a budget cut proposal by selecting for elimination a program so important and valued -- a gold watch -- that Pentagon chiefs know political leaders will restore funding rather than go through with the cut.

I expect better from the Department of Defense when we are at war.

The idea that we won't send an aircraft carrier battle group to CENTCOM's area to watch Iran because of these relatively small cuts is an insult. Yes, I know that part of the problem is that the department was basically told not to plan ahead for sequestration. And I know that the department probably has little authority to pick which areas of the large budget qualify for sequestration. And the White House is their boss. So they play ball the way the administration is fighting these puny cuts. But I don't have to like it.

Are we forgetting that the massive bureaucracy of our defense infrastructure is for the purpose of sending an aircraft carrier out to be the pointy end of our spear? The carrier is not a life-support system for 50,000 desks and those who sit behind them. If the Pentagon can't cut spending in ways that keep a carrier forward, I want to know who is stopping them? If the Pentagon is refusing to make those choices even though it has the authority, I want courts martial convened. We are at war.

If civilians tell the Pentagon that budget cuts will blot out the sun, the Pentagon should reply, "then we will fight in the shade."

It really pisses me off. Cut the budget a little, and the government reduces funding for first responders to make us feel the pain when the government knows damned well that similar cuts that furloughed (for a few days a month of unpaid days off) a larger number of employees with large oak desks, real leather chairs, and job titles that require four lines on their business cards yet are still unclear about what they do, nobody would notice or care if they weren't doing their job.

I've written that I'm conflicted about defense reductions under sequestration. If enacted with some planning to make choices about priorities, it shouldn't be a big hit in the long run. But the Department of Defense seems to be structuring those cuts to maximize damage to the military in order to frighten us into reversing those cuts. If that isn't dereliction of duty, I don't know what is.

This is an evolving process of trying to grasp what is going on and what real effects are. So I remain conflicted. But now I'm just pissed off.

At this point, just because of the obvious political nature of the cuts that the Department of Defense is proposing, I say let the defense sequester go through. We'll see if duty finally calls and the cuts are done intelligently after the Pentagon knows it will lose that budget fight.

Besides, the way I see it, this administration is going to cut defense spending anyway. So even reversing these proposed cuts at the price of losing the only chance of reducing domestic spending increases even a little will be futile. Whatever spending is retained this spring will be lost by the fall.

UPDATE: George Will makes a more high-browed reference than mine to urge our "leaders" to "Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the hamsters of sequestration":

At his unintentionally hilarious hysteria session Tuesday, Obama said: The sequester’s “meat-cleaver approach” of “severe,” “arbitrary” and “brutal” cuts will “eviscerate” education, energy and medical research spending. “And already, the threat of these cuts has forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf.”

“Forced”? The Navy did indeed cite the sequester when delaying deployment of the USS Truman. In the high-stakes pressure campaign against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, U.S. policy has been to have two carriers in nearby waters. Yet the Navy is saying it cannot find cuts to programs or deployments less essential than the Truman deployment. The Navy’s participation in the political campaign to pressure Congress into unraveling the sequester is crude, obvious and shameful, and it should earn the Navy’s budget especially skeptical scrutiny by Congress.

With a bonus slam on global warming hysteria. Do read it all.