Sequestration BoogiePosted: March 1, 2013
Well, it’s here. It’s the day the Mayans predicted!! It’s the beginning of the end of civilization in the Americas! Sequester Disaster Day is here! Well, it’s here for those of us that like to drive on roads and across bridges. It’s here for those of us that will rely on social security or medicare this month or shortly. It’s here for those of us that have kids in schools or would like to go to university. It’s here for those of us that would prefer to live in a civilized country instead of The United States of Mississippi. For politicians and punditry in the beltway, it’s just another ball where they get to show off their designer formal wear and fancy dance steps.
As the automatic across-the-board spending cuts are set to take effect today and as President Obama meets at the White House with congressional leaders, we have to get this off our chest: This has been an absurd week. Today’s White House meeting is coming only at the last second; there’s been no sense of urgency, no negotiating, and Congress has left town; and, when you think about it, this hasn’t even been a true budget showdown. Given the lack of urgency and negotiating, it’s hard not to conclude that — deep down — plenty of folks on both sides of the aisle are OK with having these cuts take place, at least in the short term.
That’s from Chuck Todd et al. I agree. None of this makes sense if you think of economic policy or actually the idea of governing a country efficiently. I have decided that the only thing Washington cares about is the political dance and political boogie surrounding the process and not what actually happens to the nation. For some reason, these cuts play in the beltway. In that vein, Dave Weigal thinks Obama is winning the process cotillion. Will it’s good some one is winning because there are certainly going to be about 320 million losers out here in the great fly over that exists behind Washington DC and Manhattan.
Republicans have one goal, running through all of these negotiations. They don’t want sequestration to be replaced by tax revenue. Any tax revenue. Forcing the president to swallow $85 billion in cuts this year would do that. They’ve got no obvious alternatives.
But a plan like this exposes a quirk of Obama-era fiscal hawksmanship. Republicans want specific cuts. Some of them—total repeal of Obamacare!—they’ll put on the record. The rest of them, they try to put on the White House. As soon as the “supercommittee” failed and sequestration looked real, it became “the president’s sequester.” The 2011 debt-limit deal delayed real action until after the 2012 election, betting $1.2 trillion of chips on its results and giving them to the president. Even the first great structural victory of the Tea Party, the ban on legislative earmarks, handed more clout to the White House. “The power to make thousands of spending decisions, on everything from which flood control projects will be funded to how spending on military bases will be distributed, to President Obama,” warned two political scientists at the time. Republicans ignored those particular political scientists.
Vote by vote, accidentally, Republicans are endorsing an imperial vision of the presidency. Perhaps they’re picking this up by osmosis. The default position of the punditocracy is that the president must lead. The lazy pundit invokes Harry Truman’s desk ornament, “The Buck Stops Here,” as a totem of great wisdom. Brendan Nyhan, who isn’t lazy, calls this “the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency,” after the D.C. Comics superhero and his ring that runs on willpower. Bob Woodward offered a sterling example of the theory this week, when he suggested that the president’s willingness to obey the Budget Control Act (the law that mandates sequestration) was “madness.”
See, I actually think they all must want all these cuts. They are so far removed from any impact that any of this would actually have that they’re just ignoring it. As a matter of fact, the similarly out of touch punditry likes the idea of it too. Let me offer of this from Ygelasias:”A Cheer or Two for Sequestration“.
But on the merits it seems to me that while sequestration is hardly optimal budget policy, it really isn’t all that bad in the scheme of things, and really going through with it would be better than repealing it. The key reason is that fully half the cuts are cuts to “defense” spending, and yet nobody from either party is seriously trying to maintain that America will be left defenseless in the wake of this reduced military spending. The specific sequestration mechanism is clearly awkward and clumsy, but again nobody’s saying the Mexican army is going to come swarming over the border to reconquer Santa Fe, that the Taliban is now going to be able to outspend the Pentagon, or that America’s NATO allies are now left unable to fend off a Russian invasion. That’s half the cuts with basically zero real public policy harm.
So then you look at the domestic side. Your basic transfer payments to poor people are spared, your transfer payments to the elderly are basically spared, and then everything else gets cut willy-nilly. That leads to some real policy harms. Valuable research grants are going to not happen. We’ll see some real bottlenecks at regulatory agencies. But obviously there’s some waste and fat in this domestic discretionary spending.
Long story short, if you’re a defense dove like me and have a nonutopian view of the domestic discretionary budget, then this looks like we’re mostly talking about harmless spending cuts.
This from a man who had to get a wife from an on line dating service which is basically the equivalent of a mail order bride. How much do you have to hate yourself to troll around online for an equally desperate person?
Yes, the across-the-board spending cuts will lead to hundreds of thousands of job losses and a fiscal drag of 0.6 percent for 2013, according to the forecasting firm of Macroeconomic Advisers. Mostly, though, the rub is the timing and the inartful nature of the cuts.
“It would clearly be preferable to have a more orderly process for fiscal adjustment than the indiscriminate effects of sequestration,” wrote Macroeconomic Advisers in a recent research note.
The inopportune moment of sequestration — hitting just as the economy shows bright spots — will create a drag on the economy in a slow-motion manner. First, the furlough notices will go out in March to federal employees, the majority of whom live outside of the Washington metro area. Unemployment checks will drop as early as April for the long-term unemployed who receive the federal benefit checks.
States eventually will have to decide how to cut programs for low-income or vulnerable people that are funded through federal grants, such as child-care assistance, nutrition programs for women and children, mental-health services, and meal programs for senior citizens.
If Congress keeps the sequester cuts in place for a few months, then the economy will start to feel the effects. Federal workers furloughed for as many as 22 days between mid-April, when the furloughs are expected to begin to occur, and the end of the fiscal year will face a pay cut of as much as 20 percent. This will have ripple effects throughout the economy on consumer spending as well as state income and sales taxes.
By July, August, and September, the impact of sequestration should be fully felt. “We’re not going to go into a downward spiral overnight, but the spending cuts will build, and as they build, the effects will become noticeable,” says Nigel Gault, the chief U.S. economist of IHS Global Insight.
Already, the economic data showed a dip in federal-government spending for defense in the first quarter, a reaction to the impending cuts.
That is the real takeaway of the sequester and its economic impact. It will not hurt the economy immediately, but it still serves as a reminder of the power the federal government holds over the economy. Even if the government cannot enact policies to boost growth, it certainly can hurt the long-term prospects.
I’d really like to know why politicians these days are united in making most people’s lives worse off while maintaining things like preferable tax treatment for people that are already better off than nearly 99.9 % of the people living on the planet? The only thing I can figure out is that none of this impacts any of them so they could care less. It’s not about what happens to the nation or to its people. It’s like they’re teenagers at a country club dance. The only thing that matters is who dances with who and how they each will be perceived in the outfit they’ve chosen. Meanwhile, what will be the cost to the country in the eventual crime and social unrest? Ah, who cares, just buy stock in the latest company that runs the privatized jails. It’s a sure winner.