The end of the world is upon us. Soon the federal government will start to increase its spending more slowly than originally planned. The numbers are terrifying. Spending will rise about $44 billion less this year due to sequestration, with future “cuts” bringing the total to $85 billion.
It is very difficult to see how our $15 trillion economy will survive this retrenchment, forcing government programs to make due on a more than $3.5 trillion federal budget. If this dangerous trend continues, federal spending will increase by $2 trillion over the next decade instead of $2 trillion.
By now it should be obvious that I am being sarcastic. But the media outrage about the sequester is wildly disproportionate to the numbers that are actually involved. We cannot seriously address Washington’s unfunded liabilities if non-cuts of this magnitude cannot even be contemplated.
Almost as precious as the media’s coverage of baby seals is the political class’ blame game. Let’s get real. In 2011, the president and Congress could not reach an agreement over deficit reduction. So they put together a “super committee,” made up of members of Congress, to try to come up with such an agreement.
Shock of shocks, these legislators still disagreed about how to reduce the deficit. Everyone involved knew the super committee was likely to fail from the beginning. That was the whole point of the sequester: a series of across-the-board spending cuts attacking both parties’ budget priorities. It was the only way the super committee approach was deemed to have a chance.
Yet it still failed and the two parties are still far apart on deficit reduction. In this sense, sequestration really does represent the least bad option to many Republicans and Democrats.
There are two legitimate objections to sequestration, one political and the other policy-oriented. Politically, Republicans will be handing Democrats something to blame for an economy that is slowing because of tax increases. In terms of policy, sequestration is not an ideal way to make budget choices and is particularly hard on defense spending for no good reason.
But if relatively modest budget reductions that have current law on their side can’t happen, then no real spending cuts can ever happen. And if entitlements and interest payments on the debt aren’t eventually dealt with, defense will keep getting squeezed.