Honk, If You Have Been Hurt by Sequestration

Donald Lambro
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Posted: Nov 15, 2013 12:01 AM
Honk, If You Have Been Hurt by Sequestration

Have the federal budget cuts, known as "sequestration," had any impact on your personal life? How about the 16-day, partial government shutdown?

Despite all of the hand-wringing here in Washington, and President Obama's hysterical warnings of fiscal and social upheaval, economic pain and deprivation, relatively few Americans said these spending cuts had an impact in their daily lives, according to surveys.

The government's so-called essential services were not affected in any significant way. The economy grew, albeit very slowly, but it was growing slowly before the sequester cuts or the shutdown.

The country went about its business. The stock market rose to new heights, untroubled by the spending cuts, and earnings rose for many corporations, boosting their equity values which in turn benefited millions of 401(k) retirement plans for America's workers.

Furloughed federal employes got paid for their time off. And the economy continued to create more jobs, though at its same old, persistently sluggish pace.

You will recall that the automatic sequester came about in the Budget Control Act of 2011 that took effect on March 1, 2013. It called for $85.4 billion in annual reductions, that worked out to $42 billion in actual cash outlays.

To the average American, that sounds like a lot of money -- and it is -- but it's relatively a thimble full compared to a $3.6 trillion federal spending budget that is racing toward $4 trillion in the next couple of years.

The sequestration cuts didn't touch programs like Social Security and Medicaid, or federal pay rates, including the military.

House and Senate budget leaders are meeting to find a compromise on a long-term budget that could repeal the sequester cuts. But if they're not successful, the sequester will remain, reducing expenditures over the coming years.

Right now, the automatic sequester cuts are on track to significantly shrink deficits by about $1 trillion over the next eight years.

Sequester critics say this is a bad way to curb spending, because it is indiscriminate in its targets. Good programs get cut, while bad programs that should be slashed deeply or abolished, survive with their accounts mostly intact.

Still, the sequester has by all accounts been an effective budget cutting weapon at a time when Congress has been unable to agree on a slimmer budget. Or at least one that Obama, who worships at the altar of Big Government, will sign. Don't bet on that happening.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, for the first 11 months in this fiscal year, total federal outlays were down by $127 billion. Okay, that's not nearly enough to get us to a balanced budget. But it's not chopped liver, either.

Thanks to the sequester, spending is being cut -- and for the first time since the end of the Korean War, it has declined two years in a row.

That's what the sequester has achieved, with relatively few Americans noticing much if any impact in their lives. But it's only a start, and very modest one. The budget is still on an unsustainable path.

That's what Douglas Elmendorf, the Congressional Budget Office director, told a bipartisan joint committee of Congress on Wednesday. And he didn't mince words.

If Congress doesn't change its spending habits, and do so soon, the mushrooming federal debt -- the largest since World War II -- will reach 100 percent of GDP in 25 years. In other words, we will owe more debt than the entire size of our economy.

The special joint committee, formed in October under a deal by Congress to end the government shut down, has until December 13 to come up with a compromise budget. Whether it can reach an agreement remains to be seen, let alone pass the House and the Senate.

Certainly, there are plenty of places where big budget cuts can be made, and that few Americans would notice.

Let's start with Obama's $90 billion green energy slush fund that has doled out money to a number of companies that have gone bankrupt, leaving taxpayers holding the bag in bad loans and grants. Many of the recipients of this money were big contributors to his campaign.

An estimated 50 energy companies bankrolled by the Obama regime went broke or are now in financial distress. Obama says his pet program will continue no matter how much money it is losing.

The liberal Brookings Institution says the administration will spend more than $150 billion on energy boondoggles like this one if the program continues.

The Department of Agriculture dishes out billions of dollars in farm subsidies, much of it to wealthy farmers or to rich investors who owned companies that received such subsidies.

The Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research outfit, recently reported the government shelled out $11.3 million in taxpayer subsidies from 1995 to 2012 to 50 billionaires or businesses that owned an interest in large farming enterprises.

These recipients included Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, investment tycoon Charles Schwab, and S. Truett Cathy, who owns fast-food chain Chick-fil-A.

"The billionaires who got the subsidies have a collective net worth of $316, according to Forbes Magazine," The New York Times reported.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant program has spent tens of billions of dollars in upscale, wealthy communities that do not meet the minimum test of need.

A typical example of this program's wasteful spending was exposed by Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn in his annual Waste Book: A New Hampshire beer brewing company "is still getting a $750,970... grant to build a new brewery and restaurant facilities."

The government is awash in similarly wasteful federal spending, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars in widespread fraud, abuse and other forms of rampant fiscal skullduggery.

It's a tawdry business Obama never discusses because he is one of its most enthusiastic practitioners.