Disaster looms.

With the sequester mere days (hours?) away, forgive me if I can’t get too worked up about it. True, we’re going to see the victims of the cuts plastered all over the news, and we’ll never hear the end of their sorrows, and there’ll be calls for closing more tax loopholes or raising tax rates– it’ll be insufferable.

But let’s conservatively assume that the federal budget for FY 2014 will be $3.8 trillion (it’ll almost certainly be higher), and let’s generously assume that the sequester will cut $100 billion from that budget (it’ll actually be lower, closer to $85 billion). To add a teensy bit more clarity, let’s present both numbers in billions: the budget will be $3,800 billion, the sequester will be $100 billion.

That would be a cut of 2.63%, bringing us all the way back to the dark ages of what, 2012? Maybe 2011? If we make an adjustment for inflation and per capita growth, you could argue that the sequester cuts real federal spending per capita all the way down to what it was in, say, 2010? 2009? Heck, let’s push it back a few more years– are we really going to say that we can’t get by on what the feds were spending when W was President?

The cutting has to start sometime. May as well be now.

4 comments

  1. Not totally sure, but would it be more accurate to match the spending cuts to discretionary sources? So, instead of 3.8 trillion, make the denominator, say, 1.3 trillion, cutting out Social Security, Medicaid/Medicare, payment on the debt, other non-discretionary entitlements and continuing appropriated resolutions? Maybe 1.3 trillion is a little high to call “discretionary”. However, to make a real comparison, I would have to go back and match discretionary spending from W’s years to coincide?

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  2. It might be more accurate if you believe there is such a thing as “non-discretionary spending.” I don’t. It’s a nonsense label designed to scare us away from trimming certain types of spending (including entitlements).

    Furthermore, declaring some spending “non-discretionary” is how some yahoos perpetuate the myth that a huge majority of all federal spending is on defense, and that we need to cut defense spending because it’s gotten out of control. To them, the “non-discretionary” spending items are sacred and shouldn’t enter the equation when considering what to cut.

    I won’t indulge them. There is no “non-discretionary” spending. There are no sacred cows, not with a debt-to-GDP ratio over 100% and growing.

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  3. I hear your point. However, in the federal budget, there are “fenced” and “protected” authorizations. These will NOT be cut without the mobilizations of multiple committees responsible for authorizations of these funds. It’s like getting the agreement of all 10 wives of a sheik before the sheik can cut funds. Also, for appropriations, what Congressman would be caught died only apportioning only 50% of entitlement funds for their committee’s program of responsibility? This is easier with items that are hidden from view, like defense, intelligence, foreign affairs moneys, etc. That is why truly, in my opinion, they are called “discretionary.” It is a “de facto” matter. “Non discretionary” is when the results of cuts and increases are out in the open. For example, there are if we cut programs that constituencies are either loath to cut or that politicians “en masse” (like a single party or caucus) use to reinforce their existence or agendas. We may refuse to admit that these terms are valid, but the shadows that appear behind these terms carry all too much weight.

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  4. I understand the procedural difficulties, but at the rate we’re going, even those non-discretionary programs are going to be cut one way (a deliberate budgeting process) or another (we just plain run out of money, or the economy crashes, or the tax base packs up and leaves, or our currency becomes worthless). The longer we wait to recognize this, the uglier the eventual cuts will be.

    I’d worry less if the economy were growing much, much faster; it’s possible that economic growth will alleviate the problems. But the problems with the big-item non-discretionary expenditures have loomed larger and larger since their inception, whether the economy’s been good or bad.

    I don’t just blame politicians for this problem, because We the People elect them. It’s on us– we demand more spending, and we demand that someone else pay for it, and we seem to think it’s going to go on forever. It can’t, and we need to start acting and voting like we understand that it can’t.

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