EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 10, 2013

Column: Sequester proves budget cuts are possible

Taylor Armerding
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — It’s Day 7 since the world ended, the sky fell and Apocalypse Now descended on American civilization. I sprung the door on my survivalist bunker here in an undisclosed location a few minute ago, with my assault rifle and large-capacity magazine at the ready, to peek out and see what was going on.

I heard that the absolute worst has happened – because of the catastrophic budget cuts imposed by the sequester, the White House has canceled all visitor tours during the spring season.

Oh, the horror. Oh, the humanity.

Don’t spread this around – I don’t want my bunker to be picketed by middle-schoolers – but if this is what sequestration hath wrought, I say bring it on. Spring in Washington, D.C. , could be beautiful with the cherry blossoms and all, but you can’t get anywhere because just about every tour bus in the nation, laden with hyperactive, squealing, eighth-graders bearing handheld electronic devices, is clogging every available street.

Actually, I’m sorry the kids won’t get to tour the presidential palace in D.C. I didn’t get to go to Washington when I was in eighth grade, and look what it’s done to me – left me skeptical, bald and old. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone – certainly not our children, who by the way are our future.

Seriously, though, the saddest thing about the sequester is how juvenile the whole thing is. It is not much of a stretch to think that a bunch of eighth-graders could do a better job tightening the nation’s fiscal belt (actually, it’s just loosening it a bit more slowly) than those who are in power.

The claim that cutting two cents of every dollar the federal government plans to spend over the next decade will unleash pestilence upon the land is an insult to “hard-working Americans” – you know, the people that President Obama and all politicians claim to respect and support so much.

The average working, taxpaying American has had to cut much more than 2 percent of the family budget since 2007, while federal spending has grown by 40 percent. Do you think they’d be screaming about an apocalypse if they were told their income was going to grow by only 38 percent during that time?

Yes, there is something bad about the sequester, but it is also due to political idiocy, not any real danger to “the most vulnerable among us” – another favorite phrase belabored to death whenever anybody suggests that government live within its means.

It calls for cuts to be made across the board, rather than by setting priorities. And it was created this way by both the president and Congress. A plague on both their houses.

Still, there is enough wiggle room in the sequester for the president to impose cuts that will not kick grandma and starving children to the curb – or cancel White House tours.

But, in the days leading up to the March 1 imposition of the sequester, the president toured the country (when he wasn’t playing golf) to tell people that it would be a calamity. So, by golly, he’s going to make sure that’s what it is.

As the Wall Street Journal and others noted last week, while eighth-graders won’t get to visit the White House and meat inspectors will get furloughed, there will still be plenty of money for, “employees of the Agriculture Department (to) attend a California conference sipping ‘exceptional local wines’ and sampling ‘tasty dishes’ prepared by ‘special guest chefs.’”

And that is only one of thousands of things that could be cut without any pain to citizens. Instead, the president has warned that the wait in security lines at airports will stretch to two, three or more hours. All because those mean Republicans won’t let him raise taxes on the rich – something they just allowed him to do, by $600 billion, at the start of the year.

This is so transparent and so typical, and yet it fools the American public every time. It happens at every level of government. If taxpayers in cities and towns vote down a property tax increase, what gets cut? Not redundant, politically connected employees at city hall, or trips to conferences for the retirement board. Not lavish benefits for public employees that are vastly more generous than those for private sector workers.

No, a firehouse gets closed. Community policing gets cut. There are threats to cut school sports or bus routes. Whatever will inflame and outrage the public – those are the first things to cut. And the public is stupid enough not to ask, or go looking for where there is fat in the budget. Nobody looks at the contracts of the police and fire unions to see how more paid time off, overtime and other benefits they get than the average taxpayer.

It doesn’t have to be that way. And Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is offering citizens to be something other than sheep who simply swallow what the president says. Check out #SequesterThis on Twitter, where average citizens can suggest what might be better to cut than essential services. How about three White House calligraphers, at a cost of $277,050? How about eliminating a few of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 16,000 offices.

There’s plenty of painless cutting that can be done. But it won’t get done that way without an informed, active citizenry.

Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net