March 3, 2013 | Back to: Opinion

Publisher’s Notebook: Shouldn’t Congress suffer for forcing us into sequestration?

Most people I know still believe sequester is something you do to your kids when they steal your car keys. “Go to your room and stay there until you’re 18!”

So forgive them if they actually believe the United States government will topple if it is forced to trim a little fat.

The 2013 federal budget is roughly $3.5 TRILLION and — as we have discussed previously — that is more money than we could count in several thousand lifetimes. The $85 billion in cuts triggered by a Congress incapable of governing us represents just 2 percent of the national budget.

Each day, according to what I can find, the U.S. government generates roughly $5 billion in revenue, but spends $11 billion ($3 billion is just for social services). That means this $85 billion in “painful spending cuts” is the equivalent of roughly a week’s worth of spending, or a trip to the supermarket.

It’s like staying home with the flu, while your credit card is safely stashed in your bedside wallet. You felt like crap, but the week was pretty inexpensive.

How many of you have had to cut your household budgets by 2 percent or more in the last few years? I know a lot of people living on Social Security who haven’t had a cost of living increase in years. Ask them what they’ve had to cut back on and some will even say, “food.”

A friend described this sequester in terms most of us can understand. “If we applied the sequester to a Big Mac Meal, you’d get fewer french fries, which probably wouldn’t send you out the door screaming, ‘I’m starving!’ ”

And before we whip out the hanky and shed a few tears for the huge sacrifices our federal government is being forced to make, it might be good to point out that a $16 trillion debt has not kept Uncle Sam from his hiring binge. While most in the private sector have been shedding jobs, the federal government added 53,933 new employees in 2011 (in spite of a so-called hiring freeze), with 362 of them added to the Department of Education (while local schools are closing and teachers are getting laid off), according to the Tax Reform Foundation.

A widely cited USA Today study found that the average federal salaries exceeded the private sector salaries across 83 percent of all industries. A Congressional Budget Office study found that benefits earned by federal civilian employees cost 48 percent more than benefits received by their private sector counterparts.

By definition, this federal “sequestration” (think castration) is $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over the next 10 years, with $85 billion slated for this year. It is triggered when the people we pay good money to, can’t or won’t do their jobs, so the cuts are fairly random across many areas of government.

The idea was to implement a way to encourage our government leaders to actually earn their paychecks by holding “sequestration” over their heads. It was the brainchild of the president’s former budget director and implemented as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

According to the National Journal, the notion was to schedule automatic cuts for the future that were “so harmful to everybody that Congress would be compelled to implement better, smarter cuts before they hit.”

That assumed, of course, that Congress was capable of implementing anything that any reasonable human would consider smart. I don’t remember ever hearing of something originating in D.C. and saying to myself, “Man. That was brilliant!”

If you really wanted to move those people off the dime, how about an automatic trigger that would cut off their pay, meal and travel money, their staff salaries, housing allowance and key to the executive bathrooms? Why punish innocent people for the incompetence of 535 elected people who would be fired if they worked for a private corporation?

“Let’s see, time for your annual performance review. As you can see from the chart, it looks like we’ve lost $16 trillion since we hired you to run the company and our customers think you are morons, so … I’m going to have to let you go.”

The job approval rating for Congress stands at 15.6 percent, according to Real Clear Politics (78.7 of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing), but we keep re-electing the same incompetent people, so go figure.

“It’s not my guy who stinks, it’s the other guy!”

I think liver has a higher approval rating.

In typical government fashion, the pain will not be felt anywhere near the House or Senate chambers. The sacrificial lambs will be those who can least afford it, like a poor TSA agent, or a woman, infant or child who receive government help to buy healthy food. They will also include veterans, or family members of an active service military family. This sequester is designed to get our attention away from the huge buckets of pork and requires human sacrifice so our government leaders can go to the podium and say, “Look at these poor people who are suffering!”

When the cameras are turned off, they head to the free buffet table down the hall.

A sequester is a good parenting tool. It’s too bad we can’t use it on the 535 people who should be sent to their rooms with no dinner.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.

JEFF ACKERMAN
jackerman@nrtoday.com

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The News-Review Updated Mar 5, 2013 01:37PM Published Mar 3, 2013 12:04AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.