Why the Sequester IS a Big Deal

There’s stupid and then there’s deliberately deceptive.  For instance, back in the summer of 2011, there were an awful lot of Republicans who thought it would be no big deal if the U.S. defaulted on its debt. That would’ve been stupid; in fact dangerously stupid. Tragedy was avoided just in the nick of time.

Fast forward eighteen months and the love child of that summer in hell – the sequester – has been dropped at the front door of Washington with a load in its diapers waiting to stink up the joint. Once more an awful lot of Republicans are saying that it’s no big deal. Bring it on! Their bravado is shared by various conservative writers like Rich Lowry, whose recent piece in Politico is a case study in deliberate deceptiveness.

To hear Lowry put it, “the sequester amounts to a $1.16 trillion cut, or roughly 3 cents on every federal dollar. If we can’t squeeze a couple of pennies out of every dollar, we might as well begin our great national bankruptcy proceedings right now.”

Lowry, of course, is talking about the entire federal budget, as though it were actually part of the equation. It’s not, and he knows it. That’s why Lowry isn’t merely stupid, he’s actually a con man who wants you to believe a set of facts that don’t really exist.

Yes, it’s true that if you look at the entire budget, it amounts to $3.5 trillion, and, yes, the amount of the cuts that are scheduled to take place on March 1 come to $85 billion. And if those were the only two numbers you had to look at, you’d probably say no big deal too, just like the GOP.

Except for one tiny and inconvenient truth: the real budget that the sequester is affecting is considerably smaller. That’s because Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid comprise a rather large chunk of all federal outlays. How large? 62% of all federal spending goes to entitlements. That leaves you with about $1.3 trillion, but you’re still not done. Interest on the debt was over $225 billion in 2011. After all is said and done the amount of the federal budget that can be cut is actually $1.1 trillion.

But here’s the kicker: the total amount of all discretionary – non-military – spending adds up to $587 billion. The rest of the $1.1 trillion goes to the Pentagon. Cutting $85 billion out of that part of the budget isn’t just a big deal; it’s insane.

As bad as an $85 billion cut to current discretionary spending will be this year, the bad news doesn’t end there. Next year $120 billion gets cut, followed by another $120 billion each year through 2022. To put it succinctly, there hasn’t been this kind of budget slashing since the founding of the Republic.

It’s a veritable Tea Party wet dream. Since their ascension to power following the 2010 midterms, they have longed for a day like this.  The Budget Control Act of 2011 wasn’t merely an ill-conceived deal made under extreme duress; it will bring about the systematic destruction of a good chunk of the federal government that will cost millions of jobs, throw the United States not just into a double-dip recession, but in all likelihood into a lost decade not unlike what the Japanese went through in the 1990s. The austerity that Europe is currently going through would be a walk in the park by comparison.

Only a truly deranged person would say no big deal with a straight face. And only a hack like Lowry would shamelessly continue to peddle such drivel in print.

Author: Peter Fegan

Progressive but pragmatic. Lover of music, die-hard Giants' fan and reluctant Mets' fan. My favorite motto? I'd rather be ruled by a smart Turk than a dumb Christian.

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