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February 26, 2013 10:46 AM Beyond the Sequester Panic

By Ed Kilgore

It’s easy to get cynical about the alarums arising over the state-by-state estimates of sequester impact the White House has released into the hands of anxious and news-hungry local media outlets around the country. And I’m not among those who think the moans emanating from various trees struck by sequester lightning will necessarily convince congressional Republicans to back off and cooperate with Democrats in fixing selected appropriations levels when the continuing resolution runs out next month.

But there’s a long-term effect this rolling fiasco could produce that is worth keeping in mind. The central chimera of American politics at present is that a stable (if slim) majority of voters dislike government spending in the abstract, but resist reductions in almost every identifiable category of government spending one they become concrete. This is why so many Democrats talk tough on the budget deficit even as they contend that austerity policies hurt the economy and that domestic safety-net programs and discretionary investments are essential to the long-term strength of the country. And this is why Republicans are willing repeatedly to bring the country to a standstill to press their repeated demands that Democrats propose “entitlement reforms” even as Republicans pose as the heroes who will ensure there is never a provider claim on Medicare that’s not paid in full.

Idiotic as the sequester undoubtedly is, it will help narrow the gap between abstract and concrete public notions of government spending, and make GOP members of Congress uncomfortably accountable for very real consequences in their own states and districts. And it will also help explode the conservative myth that public-sector austerity is exactly what we need to restore economic growth.

This last point is worth pondering. Will public employee furloughs, curtailed airport operations, closed-down Head Start enrollments, increased school class sizes, and laid-off defense contract workers create cries of joy among “job-creators” who will begin to liberate their capital holdings now that they are assured they still live in the Land of the Free where government will not be allowed to “crowd out” their brilliantly innovative activities? I don’t think so. The only people who will be pleased by the sequester are ideologues who view the beneficiaries of public-sector programs as “takers,” and who actively enjoy their pain. That these people happen to form the conservative base of the GOP is not going to enhance their reputation one single bit.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • max on February 26, 2013 10:54 AM:

    And I’m not among those who think the moans emanating from various trees struck by sequester lightning will necessarily convince congressional Republicans to back off and cooperate with Democrats in fixing selected appropriations levels when the continuing resolution runs out next month.

    This comes down to who blinks first. If we must have cuts (why?) then we should do it in a way that inflicts maximum pain on those guys, because that's what they're trying to do to us.

    The only people who will be pleased by the sequester are ideologues who view the beneficiaries of public-sector programs as “takers,” and who actively enjoy their pain.

    The notable thing is that they've so far rerun every play (in minor variation) from the Gingrich playbook with almost exactly the same results. So I am thinking they should keep it up, and maybe go ahead and pony up impeachment.

    max
    ['I concur, sir.']

  • bleh on February 26, 2013 10:55 AM:

    The central chimera of American politics at present is that a stable (if slim) majority of voters dislike government spending in the abstract, but resist reductions in almost every identifiable category of government spending one they become concrete.

    The central problem of American politics is that American voters behave like ignorant cranky children, unable to comprehend even basic facts (like what government spends money on) or arithmetic, unwilling to admit any responsibility for the common good (or even for public resources they themselves use), and all too happy to believe in utterly preposterous notions (like cutting taxes reduces deficits), and that they are routinely encouraged in their ignorance and crankiness by an exploitive political class and its courtier media.

    "We have met the enemy, and he is us," and until Americans grow up politically, this will continue.

  • c u n d gulag on February 26, 2013 10:56 AM:

    Yes, but can the Republicans stop the car that they've pressed the "petal-to-the-metal on, before they drive their party off a cliff?

    Between these cuts, if they DO happen, and hurting people, and the ACA going into effect in most states, and helping people, I think all of the lipstick, hair-dye, and make-up, that they're going to keep smearing on, won't stop more folks from realizing that they've been selling them pig's in pokes for decades now.

    The "Sequeaster," may be the straw-man that broke their camel's back.

  • c u n d gulag on February 26, 2013 10:57 AM:

    OY!
    'Sequester,' not "Sequeaster" - which sounds like some sort of a storm front, moving up a coast!

  • Josef K on February 26, 2013 10:58 AM:

    The only people who will be pleased by the sequester are ideologues who view the beneficiaries of public-sector programs as “takers,” and who actively enjoy their pain.

    I'm reminded of a review of the film "Atlas Shrugged, part 2" in Forbes, basically lauding it for 'clarifying' the whole makers/takers dichotomy. I agree that its unlikely the GOP will appreciate the damage they're doing here, never mind succumb to public pressure to resolve and fix it.

    But then, the modern GOP isn't really working on behalf of the public anymore, is it?

  • Gandalf on February 26, 2013 11:14 AM:

    Here's some simple math for the cut the budget crowd. If you take 85 billion dollars in spending out of the govt budget it's going to effect millions of peolple negatively. Now the time to make cuts is when the economy's doing well not hanging by a chad. of course I'm basically repeating the logic promoted by Krugman. Look at where austerity is in place. It's just not working.

  • boatboy_srq on February 26, 2013 11:15 AM:

    The notable thing is that they've so far rerun every play (in minor variation) from the Gingrich playbook with almost exactly the same results. So I am thinking they should keep it up, and maybe go ahead and pony up impeachment.

    What would be the charge? Conflict of interest, because Michelle Obama handed out an Oscar? Benghazi! isn't even enough to keep Congressional interest, FnF is long gone, ACORN and Solyndra are non-starters as we've already seen, and TARP falls full on the Shrubbery.

    ---------------------------------------------------------

    In addition to the lack of awareness the public makes on the link between spending in the absolute and specific programs that cost tax dollars, there's a distinct disconnect between the Teahad and the nature of the programs on which they themselves depend. A goodly proportion of the Teahad consists of veterans and defense contractors: both of those groups are heavily dependent on public largesse, either in Medicare/VA benefits or in public sector contracts (DoD, DHS, State, etc). The idea that these are part of Teh Deficit doesn't occur to them, and won't until the funds for those expenditures are Sequestered along with "entitlements" for Those people.

    I'm all for a little scaremongering when it comes to The Great Sequester. Pointing out to these wingnuts that it's their job, their contract, their healthcare and their livelihood that's at risk may be the only way they'll get off their gnawbones about how Big Gubmint spends too much and how the public sector can't create jobs/wealth/recovery/whatever. Hit them hard in their self-interest - and see whether any enlightenment occurs. And if they don't come around, then maybe we didn't need to be paying for whatever it is they were "taking" in the first place.

  • bdop4 on February 26, 2013 11:22 AM:

    I've always felt in the pit of my stomach that the shit is going to have to hit the fan before any meaningful action is taken. Unfortunately, it's going to have to get up close and personal for a large number of voters before the sleeping giant awakes.

    The sequester is America's cattle prod. I can only hope that it jolts enough people to make for a massive shift in 2014.

  • beejeez on February 26, 2013 11:30 AM:

    With you all the way, comrades, with one quibble. The idea was to wind down defense spending, remember? We shouldn't let anti-GOP sentiment get in the way of that.

  • MuddyLee on February 26, 2013 12:13 PM:

    Tea Party types really are ignorant and illogical. As I heard from an in-law last summer: who cares if 4000 FAA employees get laid off - why do they need these 4000 employees? they aren't going to lay off the air traffic controllers (turns out there were 70,000 people working under FAA contracts....and later in the week, we don't need all these people in Columbia (SC) working for the state - they don't do anything, anyway..... but somebody needs to fix these holes in this road (leading down to the boat ramp which is under the state's DHR agency).

    So let the good times roll with the sequester - until every elected CAR (crazy ass republican) hears the screams from the people whose kids and grandkids get furloughed because their job or contract income depends ultimately on federal spending.

  • Neil Bates on February 26, 2013 1:34 PM:

    BTW, right now President Obama is speaking at nearby Newport News Shipyard (colloquial title) about the Sequester harm, etc. One link:
    Obama live stream

  • iyoumeweus on February 26, 2013 1:54 PM:

    It is odd! We do not like spending on other people’s needs, but we do like to have other people spend on us. The programs we use; we feel entitled too. The programs we do not use are useless and wasteful. Someday, we may learn; we are all in it together, and we can all enjoy the fruits of a free, open democratic community. Until we do here are a few suggestions to improve our future:
    Enact a transaction tax on all trades: stock, bonds, futures, options, derivates, CDO’s, etc.
    Enact a special tax on all nanosecond trades (above) where a fast trader can ‘see’ your trade buy it and resell it unbeknownst to you. For the privilege of spying upon you a special tax should be paid.
    Eliminate the special “carried interest” tax on hedge fund and equity managers. Tax these earning as income.
    Eliminate all ‘off-shore’ special tax loopholes.
    These are all taxes which affect Wall Street and the privilege class which ripped us off, destroyed our dreams, our futures, our pensions and the nation’s economy. If they are too big to prosecute, then we must demand our elected representatives remove their special tax status bestrode upon them by us.

  • Doug on February 26, 2013 7:20 PM:

    The country-wide impact that the sequester or a government shut-down will have is the only good I can see coming from either happening. As already mentioned, there a 'way too many people in the country who have absolutely no idea how dependent they and their families are on government services of one sort or another.
    The downside of the sequester or a shut-down is the financial impact it will have on the still-recovering economy. Because we all know the Republicans in the House will never agree on any stimulus spending to help dig the country out of the hole they've put it in.
    With luck, however, maybe enough people will remember THAT on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November 2014. And, if we're really, really lucky, for several election cycles afterwards...