Sequestration Cuts? Not In My Backyard, Insist Legislators

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 27:  Meals On Wheels of San Francisco driver Jim Fleming loads meals into a van before making deliveries on February 27, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  Programs for the poor like Meals On Wheels, which delivers meals to homebound seniors, could be affected if $85 billion in federal spending cuts come down due to sequestration.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images Meals On Wheels of San Francisco driver Jim Fleming loads meals into a van before making deliveries. Sequestion cuts impact discretionary programs -- like WIC, TEFAP Administration , Meals on Wheels, Title 1 education, Head Start, law enforcement, juvenile justice, LIHEAP and many others.
At its heart, sequestration isn't all that complicated: The idea was that, unless Congress could agree on a responsible, intelligent way to balance the budget, deep, across-the-board cuts would go into affect, hitting most government programs. The plan was simple and brutal, the legislative equivalent of a parent's ultimatum: Play nicely together or I'm taking your toys away. And, to continue the metaphor, Congress refused to play well, its toys were taken away, and billions of dollars of automatic cuts went into effect. Cruel, sure, but as the old saying goes, you have nobody to blame but yourself. Especially because in this case, the "parents" are the same entities as the "children" -- the Congress.

In the days since sequestration has started to take hold, however, a rising trend has gripped Congress as a large number of legislators have expressed what TPM's Brian Beutler calls "Sequestration NIMBYism" -- the idea that cuts are fine, as long as they don't touch the programs that these legislators actually care about. As Beutler puts it:

"Sequestration is intended to be indiscriminate. It requires federal agencies to reduce spending by a certain percentage on each of their programs and activities. That means all House and Senate members are likely to see some consequences in their districts and states. But when those consequences materialize, Republicans either blame the administration or plead for special treatment."

Beutler cites a few examples, including Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who is complaining about the National Park Service's decision to close campgrounds in his state, and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), who is angry about the closure of an airport in his district. Thune, notably, was not all that energetic about avoiding the sequester: In mid-February, he downplayed the likely impact of the cuts, noting that they only represented about 2 percent of the federal budget. Given his position as chairman of the Senate Republican conference, this wasn't just an idle comment: Thune was an important player in the decision to avoid a budget compromise.

Thune has also led a group of Republican senators in an attack on one of the most visible sequestration cuts: the decision to dramatically scale back White House tours. The move, which was undertaken as part of an agreement between the Secret Service and the President, will save an estimated $74,000 a week, or almost $4 million a year.

It isn't hard to see why the Obama administration and the Secret Service decided to stop White House tours: The Secret Service had to swallow sequestration cuts just like every other department, and trimming White House tours was a relatively painless way to trim spending without impairing its ability to handle its core responsibilities.

Critics argue, however, that the Executive branch is targeting budget items that are especially visible, largely in the hopes of drawing public attention to the effects of the sequester. One legislator in particular, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), has proposed cutting $2.5 million from the Transportation Security Administration to fund the tours. Citing $50 million that the agency recently spent on "uniform-related expenses," Moran said "The same taxpayers who are funding TSA officers' new uniforms are being denied the opportunity to tour the White House -- the people's house."

Interestingly, Moran is suggesting exactly the sort of targeted budget cutting that Congress has been unable to agree on for the past year.

While the decision to cut White House tours has occupied the media, some of the more dire effects of the sequester have largely been ignored. As liberal news site ThinkProgress recently noted, there have been 33 times as many stories about the tours than about cuts to Head Start programs, food stamps, and housing assistance. That focus has been notable (To put it mildly) at Fox News, where Eric Bolling and Sean Hannity have both offered to pick up part of the White House tour bill. On the Washington Post's Wonkblog, Ezra Klein highlighted the strange dissonance:

"No one on Fox is saying we'll dig into our pockets until no unemployed person, or no recently homeless person, has to suffer. Louie Gohmert isn't ending pay for Congress until the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women and Children is made whole. But White House tours? That's treated as an emergency."

The lesson: Sequestration cuts are only a relatively minor 2 percent of the budget ... until they hit something you care about, or give you a way to score political points.



Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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drbuckles

There is $1.1 trillion in tax loopholes that could be closed and none of this charade would be happening. These loopholes are tilted towards the wealthy and the GOP wouldn't want to hurt them, they're the jobs producers. We should be pumping money into the private sector when times are bad while interest rates are low. The lie by the deficit scolds is that when the debt is high and money is going into bonds it takes it from the private sector. But the corporations are sitting trillions of dollars. Now is the time to pump money into the private sector and when employment returns to normal you do a debt reduction. We've only been doing it for the last 40 years that way.

March 18 2013 at 8:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bjzink

Maybe Michelle's vacations will be closer to home? She could go visit relatives in Chicago.

March 18 2013 at 8:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wilster008

It all depends on whose ox is getting gored!

March 18 2013 at 4:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nucleansolutions

Why can they not identify the wasteful spending?

March 18 2013 at 4:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nucleansolutions

Why can they not identify the wasteful spending? Doesn't seem that hard to me.

March 18 2013 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pb185

The article shows how hypocritical and phony the GOP really is . Remeber the "failed" stimulus" package in 2009 that the GOP derided as a waste of money and had failed? Funny how the GOP congreesperson always showed up at ribbon cuttings for projects funded by the stimulus.
Now programs are being cut due to their inaction on the budget and they are screaming. Sorry, but isn't this what the GOP keeps saying they want, cut the federal budget. id on't see what difference it males whether its through sequestration or the normal budget processs...end result a cut budget. Shows the GOP is talk but if the cuts really happen they have an issue with them. Have to wonder how many of them actually could live with the results of a Paul Ryan budget, which by the way they all say they support.

March 18 2013 at 4:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
AL CONFER

For the last five years, private business\'s have taken cuts, been forced to bail out others while their business\'s was struggling. Now our esteemed government does not want to take what was forced on private business\'s. It\'s way past time that we cut government spending and get rid of non essential jobs etc.

March 18 2013 at 3:48 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
kjhprival

A small reduction in the rate of growth, and the sky is falling. Pathetic. The sheep are conditioned to bleat on command. You cannot possible survive a day without Daddy government to comfort and protect you. Bleat bleat bleat. The government is all. Obey. Obey. Obey.

March 18 2013 at 1:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply