Facts 1, Democratic Scare Stories of All the Carnage to Result From Cutting $85 Billion Out of a $4 Trillion in Spending 0. From the Wall Street Journal:
[I]f any of these cataclysms [mentioned by President Obama and congressional Democrats] do come to pass, then they will be mostly Mr. Obama’s own creation. The truth is that the sequester already gives the White House the legal flexibility to avoid doom, if a 5% cut to programs that have increased more than 17% on average over the Obama Presidency counts as doom.
According to Mr. Obama and his budget office, the sequester cuts are indiscriminate and spell out specific percentages that will be subtracted from federal “projects, programs and activities,” or PPAs. Except for the exemptions in the 2011 budget deal, the White House says it must now cut across the board regardless of how important a given PPA is. Food inspectors, say, will be treated the same as subsidies for millionaire farmers.
Not so fast. Programs, projects and activities are a technical category of the federal budget, but the sequester actually occurs at the roughly 1,200 broader units known as budget accounts. Some accounts are small, but others contain hundreds of PPAs and the larger accounts run to billions of dollars. For the Pentagon in particular, the distinction between PPAs and accounts is huge. This means in most cases the President has the room to protect his “investments” while managing the fiscal transition over time.
The explanation for this unrealized distinction, the Journal continues, is that the bill hastily passed in 2011 took its language from the 1985 Gramm-Rudman Deficit Control Act. When the federal government is operating under continuing budget resolutions rather than a normal budget, as it has been for a few years now, the 1985 bill (and thus the 2011 bill) provides that cuts can be made at the broader level. Finally, Senate Democrats’ dereliction of duty, in refusing to pass a budget, comes with a benefit.
With the claim that he has no discretion in making budget cuts now disproved, Obama’s case rests on the highly dubious proposition that any cuts of $85 billion out of nearly $4 trillion in spending would be disastrous. No reasonable person can possibly believe the federal government spends every last billion efficiently; it’s why majorities of the public continue to tell pollsters they think spending cuts should be the priority in reducing the deficit, even if they disagree about which particular spending programs should be affected.
Of course, it’s also a dubious proposition that sequestration would lead to unbearable outcomes even absent this flexibility. If the president truly believes that the last $85 billion of federal spending is the difference between order and chaos, then he can’t possibly be believed when he says he’s in favor of cutting any spending at all.
That’s all the more true if the Obama administration really has the flexibility to make cuts in the most prudent fashion possible — and the entire Journal editorial is worth reading to get a full grasp of why that’s true. Any slowing of services from airport security to weather forecasting, or the loss of jobs for teachers and police officers, will be because the cuts weren’t managed properly.
Or, as the Journal puts it: “The real revelation is that if the world does end, it will be Mr. Obama’s choice.”
– By Kyle Wingfield