Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.
I know what you’re thinking.
All the doomsday talk coming out of Washington, the promises about the dire consequences of sequestration, the warnings that life as we know it will end if the federal government doesn’t strike a deal to prevent the looming spending cuts … why, you can almost hear Bill Murray yelling in the halls of the Capitol: dogs and cats, living together — mass hysteria!
And the most terrifying thought of all: Could this really be the last Week in Review you’ll ever read?!
Well, I don’t want to come off as callous or dismissive of these doomsayers, but let’s just say I’m bullish on the sun rising on Saturday morning.
The context for all the fretting is this: Without action by our national leaders before the end of the day today, a series of cuts in federal spending will automatically kick in. Describing the impact of those cuts, President Obama said recently, “The sequester will weaken America's economic recovery. It will weaken our military readiness. And it will weaken the basic services that the American people depend on every single day.”
Sounds terrible. But we could use a little more context.
The sequester, if it comes, will result in cuts of about $85 billion from the federal budget. That sounds like an awful lot of money — until you remember we’re talking about, you know, the federal budget, of which the cuts constitute all of 2.3 percent. And that the federal budget has grown by 40 percent since 2007.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to cut 2.3 percent from your own personal budget. And keep it up if it led to a complete shattering of your world. Didn’t think so.
To put the sequester in further perspective, check out this chart from Americans for Limited Government, which shows that even with the cuts, federal spending would still increase this year compared to last, and would continue to increase each year going forward:
In addition, the Reason TV's Nick Gillespie does a great job of demonstrating just how overblown is the rhetoric coming from the president. I urge you to watch the full video, but here’s a particularly revealing excerpt:
The White House’s Office of Management and Budget says the sequester will cut a whopping $2 million from the $20 million budget for the National Drug Intelligence Center. That sounds pretty bad — until you realize the Drug Intelligence Center closed its door in June 2012.
In other words, we’re all supposed to be terrified about the supposed impact of cuts to a program that doesn’t even exist.
There are two particular facets of this whole debate that really underscore the main problems with government today. First, if the 2.3 percent cut really would gut essential services, then here’s my question: Why in the world have our politicians designed the system in such a way that the most important spending priorities are the first to go on the chopping block? If you had to cut your personal budget, you’d probably reduce spending on entertainment before food, no? Can’t government do something similar?
But second and more important is this: The federal government, even if the sequester were to take effect, still spends way, way too much money. If we can’t trim 2.3 percent of the budget without encountering howls of protest, how are we ever going to do the really heavy lifting — like reforming our entitlement programs?
I’d be curious to get your take on all this. Do you agree with me? Or are you fearful that the sequester will indeed have a negative impact on your life? Send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time … maybe.
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