The true dimensions of sequestration

The Wall Street Journal has a concise look at the true size of the impending sequestration spending cuts today.  Have you seen Frankenweenie?  There’s a scene where a huge, menacing shadow comes lurching out of a crypt… only to reveal itself as a tiny mummified hamster throwing a distorted shadow.  The sequester is like that.

The Journal expresses this idea with hard numbers, rather than cartoon hamster zombies:

As always in Washington when there is talk of cutting spending, most of the hysteria is baseless. The nearby table from the House Budget Committee shows that programs are hardly starved for money. In Mr. Obama’s first two years, while private businesses and households were spending less and deleveraging, federal domestic discretionary spending soared by 84% with some agencies doubling and tripling their budgets.

Spending growth has slowed since Republicans took the House in 2011. Still, from 2008-2013 federal discretionary spending has climbed to $1.062 trillion from $933 billion—an increase of 13.9%. Domestic programs grew by 16.6%, much faster than the 11.6% for national security.

Transportation funding alone climbed to $69.5 billion in 2010 with the stimulus from $10.7 billion in 2008, and in 2013 the budget is still $17.9 billion, or about 67% higher. Education spending more than doubled in Mr. Obama’s first two years and is up 18.6% to $68.1 billion from 2008-2013.

But wait—this doesn’t include the recent Hurricane Sandy relief bill. Less than half of that $59 billion is going to storm victims while the rest is a spending end-run around the normal appropriations process. Add that money to the tab, and total discretionary domestic spending is up closer to 30% from 2008-2013. The sequester would claw that back by all of about 5%.

More troublesome are the cuts in defense, but for security not economic reasons. The sequester cuts the Pentagon budget by 7%. This fits Mr. Obama’s evident plan to raid the military to pay for social programs like ObamaCare.

But at least high priorities such as troop deployments are exempt from the cuts. And there is waste in the Pentagon: Start with the billions spent on “green energy” programs at DOD, bases that are no longer needed, and runaway health-care costs. Mr. Obama could work with Congress to pass those reforms so as not to cut weapons and muscle, but he has refused.

Here’s the table of Washington’s “Spending Boom,” referenced in the excerpt above:

And then you’ve got the pork-fried Hurricane Sandy relief bill, which blew most of the loot from the first year of Obama’s tax increases.  To suggest that any part of Washington wants for money, or will collapse after 5 percent is trimmed from portions of a budget whose basline numbers collectively swelled by almost 17 percent in a single presidential term, is sheer lunacy.

If we really wanted the deficit slashing Super Committee to cut spending, maybe the sequester should have been a lot bigger, particularly in the vote-buying domestic spending area.  There’s fat in the Pentagon, as the Journal notes, but that’s not where the big spending increases have been coming from lately, and we need a functional military.  The sequester isn’t a “doomsday mechanism,” it’s a timid half-measure.  In Washington, only the spending increases are bold.

To return to an idea that’s been much on my mind lately, Republicans should ask the American people if they’re happy to let Obama keep working on a “transformation” that leaves us perched upon the edge of doom – if the President’s rhetoric is taken seriously – should we cut a mere 5 percent from ever-growing government spending, a tiny 0.5 percent of GDP.  Obama’s own pleas for bloat protection and taxpayer plunder are a damning indictment of his own ideology.  A healthy economy doesn’t explode when the government cuts back a smidge, after half a decade of explosive growth.

How come the world doesn’t end when the government takes more out of the private sector in taxes?  Why are the people always expected to make do with less, never the government?  And if the Democrat answer is that the government is the people… well, conservatives should stand ready to offer a little refresher course on where that line of thinking leads.

This is more than just a debate over whether dollars are more productive in the hands of the people who earned them, or the redistributive State.  (As if free people shouldn’t know the answer to that question, on both moral and practical grounds!)  There was a bit of a row last year about whether or not government spending actively hurts the economy, even when taxes and the cost of financing a growing national debt are left out of the equation.  The answer, according to a December 2011 study by the European Central Bank, is “yes.”

And most of the factors that contribute to spending as a net negative, rather than a wonderful “stimulus,” grow more pronounced as the size of government expands.  Rare stimulus spending by a small, efficient government is much different than trillion-dollar spending sprees by a massive State that routinely throws around piles of money it doesn’t really have.  It’s a common fallacy of collectivist thinking to ignore that distinction.