Opinion: Sequestration threat is overblown

February 24, 2013


— Even during this desultory economic recovery, one industry thrives — the manufacture of synthetic hysteria. It is, however, inaccurate to accuse the Hysteric in Chief of crying “Wolf!” about spending cuts under the sequester. He is actually crying “Hamster!”

As in: Batten down the hatches — the sequester will cut $85 billion from this year’s $3.6 trillion budget! Or: Head for the storm cellar — spending will be cut 2.3 percent! Or: Washington chainsaw massacre — we must scrape by on 97.7 percent of current spending! Or: Chaos is coming because the sequester will cut a sum $25 billion larger than was just shoveled out the door (supposedly, but not actually) for victims of storm Sandy! Or: Heaven forfend, the sequester will cut 47 percent as much as was spent on the AIG bailout! Or: Famine, pestilence and locusts will come when the sequester causes federal spending over 10 years to plummet from $46 trillion all the way down to $44.8 trillion! Or: Grass will grow in the streets of America’s cities if the domestic agencies whose budgets have increased 17 percent under President Obama must endure a 5 percent cut!

The sequester has forced liberals to clarify their conviction that whatever the government’s size is at any moment, it is the bare minimum necessary to forestall intolerable suffering. At his unintentionally hilarious hysteria session last Tuesday, Obama said: The sequester’s “meat-cleaver approach” of “severe,” “arbitrary” and “brutal” cuts will “eviscerate” education, energy and medical research spending. “And already, the threat of these cuts has forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf.”

“Forced”? The Navy did indeed cite the sequester when delaying deployment of the USS Truman. In the high-stakes pressure campaign against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, U.S. policy has been to have two carriers in nearby waters. Yet the Navy is saying it cannot find cuts to programs or deployments less essential than the Truman deployment. The Navy’s participation in the political campaign to pressure Congress into unraveling the sequester is crude, obvious and shameful, and should earn the Navy’s budget especially skeptical scrutiny by Congress.

The Defense Department’s civilian employment has grown 17 percent since 2002. In 2012, DOD spending on civilian personnel was 21 percent higher than in 2002. And the Truman must stay in Norfolk? This is, strictly speaking, unbelievable.

The sequester’s critics correctly say it is not the most intelligent way to prune government; priorities among programs should be set. But such critics are utopians if they are waiting for the arrival of intelligent government. The real choice today is between bigger or smaller unintelligent government.

Obama, who believes government spends money more constructively than do those who earn it, warns that the sequester’s budgetary nicks, amounting to one half of 1 percent of gross domestic product, will derail the economy. A similar jeremiad was heard in 1943 when economist Paul Samuelson, whose Keynesian assumptions have trickled down to Obama, said postwar cuts in government would mean “the greatest period of unemployment and industrial dislocation which any economy has ever faced.”

Federal spending did indeed shrink an enormous 40 percent in one year. And the economy boomed. 

Because crises are government’s excuse for growing, liberalism’s motto is: Never let a crisis go unfabricated. But its promiscuous production of crises has made them boring.

Remember when, in the 1980s, thousands died from cancers caused by insufficient regulation of the chemical Alar sprayed on apples? No, you don’t because this alarming prediction fizzled. Alar was not, after all, a risk.

Remember when “a major cooling of the climate” was “widely considered inevitable” (New York Times, May 21, 1975) with “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation” (Science magazine, Dec. 10, 1976) which must “stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery” (International Wildlife, July 1975)? Remember reports that “the world’s climatologists are agreed” that we must “prepare for the next ice age” (Science Digest, February 1973)? Armadillos were leaving Nebraska, heading south, and heat-loving snails were scampering southward from European forests (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 27, 1974). Newsweek (April 28, 1975) said meteorologists were “almost unanimous” that cooling would “reduce agricultural productivity.”

Today, while Obama prepares a governmental power grab to combat global warming, sensible Americans, tuckered out with apocalypse fatigue, are yawning through the catastrophe du jour, the sequester. They say: Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the hamsters of sequestration.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Richard Heckler 5 years ago

All of this could have been avoided but the new rt wing GOP would NOT cooperate. The best option would be to fire this "dumb economics rt wing party" posing as republicans.

The next best option would be to bring on Green Party Economics so that voters have two parties that can work together thus producing economic growth and new jobs for the USA.

There is substantial depth to this Green Party economics which is practical and displays Fiscal Responsibility and actually demonstrates a tone of Fiscal Conservative thinking. The rt wing GOP does neither.


If all that was required was hugging beautiful trees this nation would be well on it's way. Obviously a tad bit more is necessary. One thing is for sure this rt wing GOP has a 33 year documented history of wrecking economies and killing millions upon millions of jobs. WHY does this maniac party live in perpetual denial?

deec 5 years ago

The temporary construction jobs will last 2-3 years at the most. Most of those will likely be filled by undocumented workers. The materials to build the pipeline are manufactured in Asia.

The pipeline will add very few long term jobs.


If it comes down to a choice between potable water and the almighty Jobs, I'll choose potable water.

deec 5 years ago

So, no facts or data to support your claim, then?

Liberty275 5 years ago

OMG! A 2.3% cut....

Let me decide and it will be 23%.

Armstrong 5 years ago

This is nothing new. 4 years of the sky is falling tactics has worn very thin. 4 years of it's the other guys fault has worn thinner. 4 years of zero leadership is sadly now status quo. Do any of you honestly think there will be anything different in the next 4 years ?

tomatogrower 5 years ago

Umm, the President did not pass this sequester, he may have advocated for it to make a deal, and he signed it, but the Republicans didn't have to pass it. Remember they were in charge of the House in 2011. And they continue to ignore that the President and the Democrats have come up with several budget plans that are balanced, but they continue to claim they haven't. Listen to Paul Ryan. And the Republicans still haven't given any details about what loopholes they are going to end. Of course, Brownback has given us a preview of that, hasn't he? End the loopholes that help the middle class. Ryan claims he can balance the budget in 10 years, but then he goes on to say he hasn't worked out the details yet. What a crock, or really a lying piece of ... Watch the video, if your attention span can handle 5 minutes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3qnrD...

Also, read the constitution that you claim to worship. Appropriation bills have to originate from the House, you know the part of Congress controlled by the Republicans. Spending comes from them. The President can suggest a budget, but ultimately it's the job of the House. They need to quit trying to get reelected with rhetoric and just do their job. House Republicans have been doing plenty of spending, but they just don't want their rich cronies to pay for any of it, including their stupid little wars from which many of them have profited.

Armstrong 5 years ago

This was Barry's idea, he owns it. If you're mad great, be mad at the originator. Bells and whistles starting to go off ?

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

It was Obama's staff that came up with this crazy idea that was then overwhelmingly agreed to by Congressional Republicans. They "knew" then that no one would be foolish enough to allow this insanity to continue. Both were wrong. They're both just that insane. And they both own it equally.

Beyond that, though, we elected every single one of them. So we own it as well. In fact, we own it more than they do. They may be fools, but we elected them to high office. We're the bigger fools.

tomatogrower 5 years ago

At the Fort Leavenworth college, they have already cut back many departments through attrition, and now the workers are facing 2 furlough days per 2 week pay period. That means a 20% pay cut. 20% less money to buy the products from your employer or your business. That's called the trickle up theory. But most corporations could care less, because they are selling their goods elsewhere, so why should they care about Kansas or any other state in the US? Their bottom line is the only thing important to them. They have been taught that in their MBS classes. Destroy lives and make a profit. That's the new business model.

Armstrong 5 years ago

That's interesting, I went to school in the 80's, you remember the height of popularity of the Republicans. I never ever heard anything about destroying the lives of your employees to make a profit. In the business world for 30 years I never ever heard about destroying the lives of employees to make a profit. Tell me Tomato did I miss something in school or a meeting where that is the norm ?

tomatogrower 5 years ago

If they aren't teaching it in school they are certainly practicing it in real life. Please explain how executive compensation has grown by leaps and bounds, but the workers who produce have dropped? Please explain why companies who are making lots of money can come out and explain to their workers how much money the company has made and it's such wonderful news, then tell them that they can't afford raises this year, and are going to make the workers pay more for their insurance. And how many companies expect hourly workers to work off the clock, because they don't have enough workers to do the job right?

The CEO's love high unemployment and want to keep it this way, so they have a work force desperate for jobs. I don't run my business that way, but I rub elbows with plenty of business people, and I hear it all the time. Just like when I'm around white people who don't know me, assume they can make racist jokes, because I'm white like they are, I hear a lot of executives brag about cutting costs by cutting out their workers, then the CEO's walk away with a big bonus. Do they have a whole lot more money than I do? Sure, but I live quite well and have my morals intact.

Armstrong 5 years ago

Where on earth? do you get your information. Your scenarios are beyond any economic possibility for a business to stay afloat. Reality is not from the movie Wall Street.

tomatogrower 5 years ago

How many billions does Wal Mart make a year? But they can't pay their workers a living wage or at least give them insurance? Wal Mart is a major influence in today's business models.

Armstrong 5 years ago

Wal-Mart Dist Center employees start at $14/hr ( depending on shift ) Wal-Mart does offer insurance. Next

tomatogrower 5 years ago

Their retail stores have mostly parttime people and they don't get paid well and they don't get insurance.

Armstrong 5 years ago

many highschool and college kids work at Wal-Mart - your point ?

voevoda 5 years ago

It's not surprising that George Will is in favor of sequestration. After all, sequestration is just a budget cut without any revenue enhancement--that is, exactly what the Republican leadership has been demanding ever since, well, President Obama's first day in office. The only thing the Republicans don't like about it is that they can't cherry-pick which programs continue to get funded, maybe even at higher levels (corporate welfare, maybe), and which ones get totally defunded (such as unemployment benefits and food stamps and Social Security).

Armstrong 5 years ago

Barry got a $600 B tax revenue increase. The reason Barry is upset is now it's his turn to pony up.

Liberty275 5 years ago

It is used to refer to Obama similar to the way "shrub" was used when speaking of the younger Bush. It's somewhat diminutive.

voevoda 5 years ago

No, Armstrong, the President did not get a "tax revenue increase." Congress enacted the current tax laws, and the revenue benefits the country, not Barack Obama personally. The "tax revenue increase" mostly consisted of ending the tax holiday for certain payroll taxes--those that support Social Security, and thus come back to the people who pay them. The only tax increase otherwise was on the richest people in the country--the ones who benefited the most from the ridiculously low tax rates they got from the Bush era. They still aren't paying their fair share, as demonstrated by the fact that their share of the wealth of this country continues to increase, while the share of wealth of the people who will be most affected by the sequestration has been steadily decreasing. So the sequestration is another example of modest wage-earners have to pay more so that the megarich can pay less.

Maybe, Armstrong, you can afford to take a 20% pay cut--that's what's facing the employees who will be affected by the sequestration. If so, stop whining about being overtaxed.

yourworstnightmare 5 years ago

Kansas is predicted to be one the the harder-hit states because of sequestration.

The federal money that comes into Kansas through farm subsidies and the defense industry is a higher than average amount of federal money coming to a state (in other words, Kansas receives more than it pays).

yet another example of a Kansas self-inflicted wound.

Armstrong 5 years ago

Sequestration has nothing to do with KS. This is Barry's brain child so it's Barry's problem. $600/B in new taxes / Zero in spending cuts. Let's see how the spin works March 1

George Lippencott 5 years ago

At this point sequestration is becoming moot. The Republican goal is to cut the deficit. All sequestration is going to do is temporarily cut funds to people who will b e back at work in a few weeks. It will create waiting lists in programs that we will work down after the short term savings are realized. There will be no long term reduction in the deficit. The sequestration will not achieve the Republican's goal

From a Democratic standpoint sequestration just hurts a lot of people we do not need to hurt. Demanding more taxes as the price of revising the sequestration is insane. Cuts of the magnitude and targets envisioned will almost certainly hurt our economy if not push it back into recession. That said we can not continue to spend a trillion dollars a year more than we take in. Either we face the American people with the full tax ramifications of that reality or we must make substantial cuts in something.

We have a budget issue coming up at the end of next month where real and long term cuts cane be made in exchange for some form of tax reform and tax increases. The only way we can avoid a broad based tax increase is to cut many programs upon which people are dependent and where in some case people paid directly. We have obligations to those people (whether we like the programs they are on or not). The budget is exactly the vehicle for establishing a bi-partisan plan (cuts and taxes and timing). Whatever we do it needs to be incremental and long term. We can not keep governing from crisis to crisis - all self made.

The leaders of both parties should be taken out and shot (figuratively) tomorrow morning if they can not move away from political gamesmanship toward responsible governance.

Trumbull 5 years ago

Can the debt be monetized gradually? I know this sounds crazy, but the sluggish economy would reduce the inflationary impact, and the monetization can be offset as well by our trade imbalance and net outflow of cash. Just wondering.

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