Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Politics Of Fear and Blame

We’ve heard it a lot recently, both locally and nationally: if you don’t do X, something bad is going to happen.

Locally, here in Kenner, when Mayor Mike Yenni was promoting his plan to double property taxes instead of cutting the size of government, he said, “If these taxes aren’t passed, there will be cuts that everyone will feel.” Of course, the taxes were defeated; Yenni has actually added new city Departments and Directors; and the City has run a budget surplus for the past several years.
Last month, the Nation was in danger of falling off the “Fiscal Cliff”. At the last moment, just as we all stood on the precipice looking at the other side, an agreement was reached which gave us a couple of months of breathing room so we could all exhale, and Congress kicked the can down the road a bit.

The stock market is up; commodity prices are at record highs; and mortgage rates have remained low. Crisis averted – for the moment.
Now, President Obama is everywhere talking about the devastating cuts that he claims will again push our economy over the edge because Republicans won’t enact higher taxes and would prefer to cut spending. Kenner residents are feeling a sense of déjà vu.

"Are they (Congressional Republicans) seriously prepared to inflict more pain on the middle-class because they refuse to ask anything more of those at the very top?" asked President Obama.
Congressional Republicans, for their part, want more budget cuts and no more tax increases.

"Republicans in the House have voted - twice - to replace President Obama's sequester with smarter spending cuts," said House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) spokesman Michael Steel in a statement. "The White House needs to spend less time explaining to the press how bad the sequester will be and more time actually working to stop it."

The President continues to blame Republicans.
In his weekly Saturday radio address, the President said, "Unfortunately, it appears that Republicans in Congress have decided that instead of compromising – instead of asking anything of the wealthiest Americans – they would rather let these cuts fall squarely on the middle class."

"We just need Republicans in Washington to come around," Obama added. "Because we need their help to finish the job of reducing our deficit in a smart way that doesn't hurt our economy or our people."
Republicans quickly shot back.

"I think the American people are tired of the blame game," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
Former MS Governor and Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour said, "Well, if it was a bad idea, it was the president's idea."

Sequestration will cause $85 Billion in cuts this year and $1.2 Trillion over 10 years. Defense and Domestic Programs will be cut approximately 50/50 with the Defense budget facing overall cuts of about  8% while domestic programs will be cut by 5%.
“These cuts are not smart. They are not fair. They will hurt our economy. They will add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls,” President Obama said.   

While the “Blame Game” has been going on for weeks, the fear mongering has just started in earnest.
Many of the Cabinet Secretaries whose Departments are affected have been critical of the cuts.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the cuts, $46 Billion from the Defense Department in 2013, will impact troop training, readiness and may cause some overseas tours to be extended rather than moving in fresh troops.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Sunday’s “Meet The Press” said, “We will have to work with the airlines in slowing planes down” because air traffic control personnel will be cut.  Of course, LaHood fails to mention that over the past 10 years the FAA’s budget has grown by almost $3 Billion or 41% (a point that was noted by host David Gregory).

And, Education Secretary Arnie Duncan said 70,000 fewer kids will have access to Head Start programs.
Meat inspections will also be reduced.
To be sure, the forced cuts, and any cuts for that matter, will have some human consequences. Jobs will be lost ( discussed the impact of Sequestration on Louisiana here).

But, do we need to make THESE cuts?
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal isn’t so sure.

Also on “Meet The Press”, Jindal said, “The reality is nobody is saying that he should make these exact cuts. We can cut less than 3% of the budget without hollowing out our military, without jeopardizing air traffic, without jeopardizing meat inspections.”
 “We’re all in favor of spending cuts,” LaHood said. Ok, Mr. Secretary, what’s your plan?

Since LaHood suggested that members of Congress watch the movie “Lincoln” to see examples of bipartisanship, I doubt he could come up with a real plan.
But, better yet, what is your plan, Mr. President?

And, that is precisely the point – if the President and his Cabinet Secretaries don’t like these cuts and are sincere about the need to cut the Federal budget, why don’t they offer their own cuts instead of these specific, targeted cuts?
Not to leave Speaker Boehner out of the mix, what’s your plan Mr. Speaker?

Why haven’t Republicans come up with a clear plan of their own to make needed spending cuts without the need to continue to raise revenue?

Why are Democrats waiting on Republicans and Republicans waiting on the President? Where is the leadership from either side or both?
Clearly, the Federal Budget could be cut by 3% (and, probably, a lot more) without any real, meaningful pain. Surely, there is at least 3% in waste that could be cut to replace these cuts. Right?

The reality is that not enough people in Congress actually want to cut spending. Cutting spending is bad for re-election. With Congress’ overall approval rating in the tank, Congressmen and Senators are routinely re-elected (unless they are involved in a major scandal and, oftentimes, even then they are re-elected). They attach a myriad of pork projects to bills that have little to do with the bill itself. Billions of unnecessary spending was added to the recent bill that provided relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
So, if the only way to get some amount of government spending cut is through Sequestration, and since neither side has offered a meaningful plan to replace the forced spending cuts, I say “Bring it on – Sequester away”.

Of course, the next time I eat a piece of uninspected meat or face a flight delay, heads are going to roll. Just not my Congressman’s head.