Jacob Sullum

Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, calculates that the automatic cuts mean federal spending will rise by $1.65 trillion from 2012 through 2021, about 8 percent less than the currently projected increase of $1.8 trillion. That's right: These "cuts" are not really cuts at all; they are modest reductions in the increases that Congress takes for granted. How pathetic is it that Congress sets the bar for fiscal responsibility so low and still can't get over it?

After it became clear that the supercommittee was exhausted even at the thought of leaping this obstacle, the White House released a statement that declared, "Congress needs to do its job here and make the kind of tough choices to live within its means that American families make every day." That sentiment would be more credible if it came from an administration that had ever proposed a balanced budget, instead of one that has presided over record-breaking deficits.

But let us take President Obama at his word, keeping in mind that Congress has no means of its own and can only spend money it takes from other people. If Congress lived within its means, it would not have racked up a debt equivalent to the nation's gross domestic product. At this point, the least it can do is stop spending money it does not have.

Federal revenue in fiscal year 2011 came to $2.3 trillion. Adjusting for inflation, that is roughly equal to total federal spending in 2000, the last year of the Clinton administration. Any member of Congress who thinks returning to that level of spending is inconceivable needs to be replaced by someone with a better imagination.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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