The current problem — $85 billion in spending cuts to be triggered Friday and taking place between now and the Sept. 30 end of the federal fiscal year — is particularly frustrating because it was designed back in 2011 as an event that surely would not happen. It’s been called the sequestration of those funds, or simply “the sequester.”
Now it looks for all the world like it will happen — or at least the news out of Washington indicates nothing will happen before Friday to stop it.
And the heavens will turn dark and the ground will shake without end, or so it would seem by what Obama and his team are saying. It’s all his fault, say top Republicans.
OK, so it was a bad idea from the beginning, programming big across-the-board spending cuts to happen automatically if the president and Congress couldn’t agree on properly planned ways of reining in out-of-control budget deficits.
The deadline originally was Jan. 1, but they struck a last-minute bargain in December, and now the deadline is March 1. Obama wants more revenue by eliminating tax breaks; Republicans say they agreed to enough on the revenue side in December and now will settle for nothing but spending cuts.
Not to belittle the stupidity of unplanned, ax-swinging, across-the-board cuts, but there’s reason to be skeptical of the doomsday warnings.
After months of describing the pending cuts to Pentagon spending as “shameful and irresponsible,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last week he will tell 800,000 civilian workers to take an extra day off each week without pay. He says those and other cuts will cause “real harm.”
He’s right, of course. The White House said Sunday the furloughs alone would affect 52,000 people in Texas, reducing their gross pay by around $274.8 million in total by Sept. 31.
But also in all of that is an ironic hint that Panetta is not taking the cuts seriously. If you’re an employer who sees your revenue taking a sharp, permanent decline, your first step is not to furlough workers. The way to absorb a permanent cut like that is to tell those workers, regretfully, that their jobs are coming to an end.
So there’s a high-profile Obama team player who must be thinking this is all going to blow over.
The White House also raised the threat of the Navy reducing its purchases of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter assembled by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth. But Lockheed Martin officials say they have Pentagon contracts with long lead times, so any changes wouldn’t show up for months.
The White House also said Texas would lose $67.8 million in federal funding for primary and secondary education, among other cuts.
That’s a lot of money, but the state is scheduled to receive $4.9 billion in federal funds this year, part of a total school spending plan that tops $40 billion when local funds are included. What the White House is talking about is taking away less than a 10th of a percent of public education spending in Texas. It’s doable.
Surely, at some point Washington posturing will end and responsible governing will begin. Even a wolf can get tired of snarling all the time.