No Governor: let the sequester happen

Gov. Bob McDonnell has sent a letter to President Obama (and his press list) “calling for immediate action to prevent the implementation of the sequester.” Ah yes, the sequester. The evil budgetary monster that, if it comes to pass, will send Virginia and sundry other states that are firmly welded to the federal teat into an economic tailspin. The Governor is rather upset by the possibility:

As we all know, the defense, and other, cuts in the sequester were designed to be a hammer, not a real policy. Unfortunately, inaction by you and Congress now leaves states and localities to adjust to the looming threat of this haphazard idea. While Virginia has fought its way to the lowest unemployment rate in the southeast at 5.5 percent and has seen three years of state budget surpluses, the unprecedented uncertainty caused by Washington’s fiscal policies is making it harder for families, businesses, and the Commonwealth to plan for the future.

And so on.

I’ve written before that such arguments are utter nonsense. And Tim Donner’s post on the sequester is even better:

When combined with this deal on taxes, what we would almost certainly wind up with in almost any deal from here on in is the typical bottom line out of Washington. As all the tax increases happen immediately, the spending cuts are spread out over many years, and are thus fully revocable by future congresses. And the typical excuse will be used: if we cut spending too fast, it could throw the economy back into recession.

Nonsense. The markets and private economy (except for beltway bandits and others feeding at the public trough) will almost certainly respond positively to the first serious move by congress to stanch the bleeding brought on by consistently spending a trillion dollars more than we collect, borrowing promiscuously and passing the bill on to future generations.

But there is a simpler way to frame the ultimate question about cutting the federal behemoth down to size: if not now, when? When exactly will the politicians agree that it’s a good time to reduce the jobs and goodies dished out by the federal government?

The Governor’s letter does not raise this question. It instead urges “the shaping of a responsible legislative alternative to meet our nation’s fiscal crises.”

Vague as his demand is, what the Governor asks for is something the political class has refused to do for decades.

The reality is the sequester is probably the best and only way to get even a smidgen of spending restraint out of Washington, DC. And even with these cuts, the Leviathan will still continue to grow:

  • Tess Ailshire

    Why is it OK to ask the president to step in here and override Congress, when his detractors have been railing against this for years?

    The sequester came about because Congress charged itself with coming up with a solution, and then DIDN’T.

    WE THE PEOPLE are the only ones who should step in at this point. We do that at the ballot box.

  • pinecone321

    I’m beginning to wonder if I really did see an R after Bob McDonnell’s name when I voted for him. I’m actually getting to the point where I would be much more surprised if McDonnell did something that was in line with conservatism, rather than just “acting stupidly” with many of his latest decisions and debacles.

    I remember when McDonnell wrote a letter to Salazar asking him to open the coasts off VA to oil permits that were coming up for sale. Of course Salazar said no, so McDonnell thinks OK, I can’t let a good energy crisis go to waste, so I’ll push for wind mills off the coast. One of my most important issues of the day is our energy policy. I know it is against Obama’s policies, but I know it would send the economy into prosperity, would create thousands of jobs across the country, and would remove us from dependency on the volatile and soon to explode middle east. Rather than McDonnell utilizing those taxpayer monies on his transportation goals, he is busy investing in a foolish project which will see us as the next Solyndra type endeavor. Geeez I’m so tired of being fooled.

  • Mike Barrett

    Yes, the Governor, and most of the Congressmen and the Senators in Virginia want sane policy to prevail instead of the imposition of the meat ax, which no one I know thinks is wise public policy. Faced with the reality of these inane cuts, we need smarter heads to prevail. The sequester is totally unnecessary if Congress with do four things; cuts wisely, increase revenue, engage in corporate tax reform, and reform entitlements.
    All four of these can be done wisely and with dispatch so our economy can keep growing and improving. Republicans however still appear to have a death wish; that is, they insist that only more reductions will do, nothing else. Frankly, that is a formula for disaster.
    So I suspect that once again they will cause another unnecessary fiscal crisis that will hurt our economy, our workers, the markets, and the bond holders. Republicans still believe that more tax cuts and more enforced austerity will improve our economy when exactly the oppositive is required.

    • George from Cleveland

      We already had stimulus and we just got tax increases? How is that working out?

  • Mike Barrett

    Republicans like Norman seems to think the sequester is just a big joke instead of another way for republcians to prove once and for all that they want the rest of us to suffer so they can prove they were right about the Bush tax cuts. Fact is, they were wrong then and they are wrong now, and the only good that we come from this adventure is the proof of their political demise.

    Perhaps they think cutting one million jobs, many of them here in Virginia, is just just the price we must pay to create extreme enforced austerity. Furloughs for most law enforcement personnel, Coast Guard, homeland security, border patrol, customs, who needs them?

    Air traffic control, criminal justice, FBI, federal prisons, all will be furloughd. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, health and safety, community health centers, food and safety employees, air monitoring sites, research, recreation at national parks, not to mention of course the effects on DoD and our Navy and Marine Corps Personnel and DoD personnel in Virginia.

    Fact is, there will be a price to pay for this instansigence; republicans will pay in the long run for an action that is neither nor valuable to this nation.

    • George from Cleveland

      The easiest thing to cut right now is the military budget, as shocking as it may sound, NPR seems to have more friends in Washington than the F-35. The second politically easiest thing to do is tax everyone higher, including the middle class, Paul Krugman admitted as such.

      Structural reforms of the entitlements are impossible, and an increase in immigration will make it even more so. The healthcare system is going to end up in single-payer, whether we like it or not.

      • MD Russ


        Yes, we can cut the Defense budget. But what good will that do? If you cut Defense by 30%, that is only $200B against an annual deficit of over $1T and a debt of over $14T. It would leave our country virtually unable to meet national security readiness goals while doing nothing meaningful to balance the budget.

        And why are structural reforms of entitlements impossible, except for the bleating scare tactics of Democrats? We could:

        -raise the minimum retirement age for Social Security,

        -institute means testing for all entitlements,

        -change Medicare/Medicaid from a direct reimbursement program to a defined benefits payment program to the individual,

        -imposed chained CPI benefit increases.

        All of these measures were recommended in one form or another by the Bowles-Simpson Commission.

        • George from Cleveland

          I don’t really agree with cutting Defense significantly, but I see it as the politically easiest thing to do. The country has a very anti-war attitude these days, and much of our military is used to defend other First World nations that need to pay for their own defense.

          The cut level you described, achieves 1/5th of the deficit total, a good start.

          I think means testing is an excellent idea for SS and Medicare. Along with raising the retirement age for those under 30 (my age bracket) to 70.

          But good luck selling that, I realized since I was 14 that I’d never get SS.

          Healthcare is on a runaway train to single-payer Canada style, it’s the only way that costs will be controlled, and cost control is the real problem.

  • Nice post, Norm.

    I’ve wondered if the sequester may have been purposely designed to inflict the maximum amount of pain on the electorate and generate a massive amounts of political hysteria, thus generating a general mainstream fear of cutting any sacred cow from federal spending.

    Will these cuts hurt? Of course they will. But that’s not that matter at hand in my mind.

    As I said last year on the Republican National Convention’s Committee on Resolutions, “We’re not even really cutting anything. We’re voting on a document that’s going to be shown to the American people – and I don’t want to be looked upon as though we’re not telling them the truth.”

    The statistical fact of the matter is that the sequester, quite literally, cuts virtually nothing from our deficit. The trajectory of increases in our baseline budget exceeds the amount of cuts that are taking place.

    That means that the rate of spending – even with the sequester in place – will continue to rise, albeit at a slower pace. If we choose to ignore that for any reason, we do so at our own peril.

    The national debate on the sequester seems to be generally monopolized by politicians who are passively peddling the influence of big donors and special interest groups, as opposed to a laser focus on common sense discussion. I guess I should see that kinda’ stuff coming from a mile away…

    I’m afraid that if some Republicans aren’t willing to admit their love affairs with certain sectors of big government and would instead prefer to demagogue a very serious and pressing issue, we’re going to face a growing challenge with an electorate that is continually progressing in its ability to read between the lines (thanks to the digital communication technology).

    It’s tough to build a good political reputation if one’s associates purge fundamental principles for the gain of personal and electoral interests.

    Let’s speak candidly and have a productive discussion, yes…? Filling the room with smoke doesn’t help us see things any better, either.

  • Mike Barrett

    It appears that sequestration is going to take place as republicans consider this to be a pawn in a game of chicken. With so few congressman serving in the military, to these right wing conservatives, they could care less about security or defense. They just want more budget cuts, no matter to effect on the military, domestic agencies, or on our economy. To them, cuts will never be enough no matter how much is cut; they will just insist on more. Since sequestration is an irrational methodology, you would think reasonable people could
    prevail, but no, they would not negotiate on iota even if it just involves increased revenue from tax reform. Republicans just serve their corporate masters; we don’t count. Just plutocrates are entitled to win with republicans.

    • That’s not fair, Mike. You know very well – as you’re a newsletter subscriber – that Reps Rigell, Forbes, Wittman and Wolf joined their Democratic colleagues Scott, Moran, Connolly and Sens Kaine and Warner to oppose the sequester and urge the president, Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner to negotiate a compromise.

      • Mike Barrett

        Yes, they have, but as far as I can tell, there is a lot of pontification but little substance. So far, the republicans like Boehner and Cantor have been advised by their caucus to offer only more cuts, not more revenue. The President has offered more cuts and also entitlement reform. So yes, most Virginia politicians have condemned the sequester, but without compromise on cuts and revenue, it is empty rhetoric.

        • Again, just not true. Rigell, specifically, has brought up revenues and most Republican favor closing tax loopholes and simplifying the tax code.

          • Mike Barrett

            Yes, Rigell has appeared to be more reasonable than most of his caucus. Regretfully, Boehmer and Candor take their orders from the Republican Study Committee, and as far as I know, the guidance has been no new revenue; that is, neither reform of tax credits nor taxes. If we really want deficit reduction, we must have both.

          • I only agree with you because that’s where the compromise needs to be. That said, there’s plenty that can be done to lower our deficits – especially in entitlement reform. We can save a ton of money just by grandfathering in some reforms, such as making the retirement age 75 for those under 20, etc.

            My personal favorite is that for everyone under 30, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid go back to their original forms, except that the eligibility age for social security is higher. But I doubt our entitlement society will go for that.

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