The latest projectile-sweat-producing event in Our Nation's Capital is the looming automatic cuts in the federal budget known as "sequestration."
Sequestration is not a word we get to use every day in a sentence, most of us, but it is fun to say because we get to use the tip and the back of our tongues to say it.
According to Webster's, sequestration is a 14th century word from the Latin sequesrare - to hand over to a trustee or some other third party. Today it is an intransitive verb meaning to segregate (as a jury), to seclude, or to seize (via a writ of sequestration).
The current writ of sequestration started in November 2011 when the Congress AND the President put automatic budget cuts on the table as an incentive to come up with a grand strategy to do something about the national debt which, as of last night stood at $16.5 trillion and growing. They were to come up with cuts of at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.
They didn't and so, 13 months on, the automatic cuts were to take place.
This was not done by some backroom handshake. It was the result of an actual law - the Budget Control Act of 2011, now known as Public Law 112-25. I point that out because to listen to President Obama you might be led to believe that when this stupid deal was struck he was playing golf with Tiger Woods. On Mars.
In fact, a bill becomes law (in most cases, including this one) when it is passed by the House and Senate then signed by the President of the United States. In this case, Barack Obama.
The budget year for the U.S. Government starts on October 1 and runs to the next September 30. This is called the fiscal year (as opposed to the calendar year which, in the West, begins on January 1 and ends on December 31). When the Budget Control Act (let's agree to call it the BCA) was adopted, it called for the automatic cuts to begin on January 1, 2013 - three months into the fiscal year.
To the surprise of no one, the House and the Senate and the President didn't want to live with the fruits of their fruitlessness; and so on January 2, 2013 they passed a quick law delaying the effects of sequestration until March 1, 2013 - five months into the fiscal year.
That bill was grandly named the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. That's the one that raised income taxes on rich people and payroll taxes on the rest of us thus providing tax relief to no one.
We have discussed this before but someone once said the title of a bill is like the title of a Marx Brothers' movie: It has nothing whatever to do with the actual contents. (See, also, Duck Soup; Animal Crackers; and Cocoanuts to name but a few).
You might have noticed that the House, the Senate and the President are so worried about this looming March 1 deadline that they are - all 536 of them - on vacation.
If the sequester had kicked in on January 1, it would have called for automatic cuts in the vicinity of $85 billion. With sequestration delayed until March 1, according to the Library of Congress, the automatic cuts will be $24 billion less - $61 billion although other sources maintain they have to cut the full amount.
That's a lot of money. But to put it into context, total federal spending requested in the Obama budget for fiscal year (FY) 2013 is $2.9 trillion.
$61 billion is about two percent of $2.9 trillion. That's it. Two percent.
Whatever the total, they don't have to cut the whole amount on March 1. They have to spend that much less by September 30.
If you or I made $50,000 per year, two percent of that would be $1,000 - or $19.23 per week. We could do that.
Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and Social Security, are among the dozens of programs that are exempt from sequestration cuts.
Here's what we know: The Congress and the President are incapable of cutting anything from any program, ever. If the only way to reduce spending is by instituting automatic cuts, then I am for allowing the sequester to take effect and see what happens.
If the United States doesn't fall off the face of the Rand-McNally map then maybe the House, the Senate and the President should pass another law automatically cutting more spending for the next fiscal year.
Then they should all go back on vacation.