America / Economy / Fiscal policy

The Sequester: A perplexity inside and outside Washington

2-22-13-1And so we enter another manufactured financial crisis here in Washington.

The U.S. government is on the precipice of implementing massive spending cuts to federal programs. Totaling $1.2 trillion over the next decade, these cuts, known as (cue the headline buzzword) the “sequester,” will cut nearly every federal program’s budget by 8.2%.

Both the left and the right are shifting the blame on one another, despite the fact that these cuts were made law by both parties in the controversial budget agreement back in 2011.

Confusing? I know. Yet even more perplexing are the thoughts of the American people regarding the sequester. The Pew Research Center recently released a poll indicating the American people’s unrealistic expectations concerning the federal budget. Although 54% of Americans believe spending cuts should be enacted, their views make a complete 180 when they’re asked which programs they would like to see cut.

Despite their support for general spending reduction, Americans favored increasing or maintaining the budgets of 16 out of 19 programs Pew offered in their survey. Looking at this data table, it is clear that while the American public may want “spending cuts,” they also want to keep this program. Oh and that program. And those ones over there too. The sad truth is, even if we cut “Aid to the world’s needy,” the top option Americans chose to slash, that would barely dent 1% of the total federal budget.

So what can we take away from this apparent “have my cake and eat it too” complex? It’s certainly clear that no one can agree on which specific programs to cut. And it’s also clear that Congress and the White House will not do anything to prevent the sequester from happening. Most GOP officials are basically silent concerning the issue and the Obama administration’s meager efforts are too little too late.

At this point in the game, the focus should be on what the post-sequester world will look like. The Congressional Budget Office has found that the scale of the cuts may be overstated, somewhat deflating the White House alarm bell ringing. Republicans may not like the fact that half of these cuts affect national security initiatives, but if the sequester passes without much uproar, it could prove a victory for the GOP in its efforts to reduce government spending as a whole.

Once again, we will just have to wait for the dust of another manufactured crisis to settle.