The brutal politics of sequestration

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations:

In December 1995, just one year after the Gingrich Revolution when Republicans captured the House and Senate in the 1994 mid-term congressional elections, Newt Gingrich went toe-to-toe with Bill Clinton over budget sequestration.

In response to Gingrich’s insistence, President Clinton said fine, let’s shut down the federal government and he started by closing offices at the Social Security Administration, closing all national parks and monuments and any service having to do with veterans affairs. Clinton hinted that defense cuts would be next. Of course, we all know who won that fight – Bill Clinton – and threats of government shutdowns ever since have been idle threats at best.

So here we are again. Sequestration threatens our nation. For Utah, sequestration could have a major impact on our government and economy. Thirty percent of the Utah state budget comes from the federal government, and over a quarter of our economy is driven by federal dollars. Think about your own personal paycheck. If you made $4,000 a month, 30 percent would be $1,200. How difficult would be your family’s monthly budget decisions if that $1,200 disappeared over night? That’s what Utah is facing with sequestration.

And it’s not just our state government. The feds have their claws into every level of government in Utah. For instance, if sequestration hits on March 1, school districts across the state would lose money. Twenty-one percent of the Ogden School District’s budget comes from the federal government.

There’s a lot of money at stake – which means politics will be at their most brutal, and gaming ethics, not principles of sound government, will certainly rule the day. Let me give you one example.

À la Bill Clinton, President Obama claims that unless Congress raises taxes to undo sequestration, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would be forced to reduce security measures, leaving travelers and the airways vulnerable and increasing wait times at airports.

So there isn’t a dime that could be cut out of TSA’s budget that wouldn’t compromise national security? Of course they can cut without hurting national security.

For example, TSA has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars. According to one congressional report, evidently TSA has a warehouse in Dallas, Texas, where 5,700 pieces of unused security equipment sit in storage; the dormant equipment is worth $184 million; this equipment storage has cost taxpayers another $23 million in depreciation; and, the agency spends another $3.5 million every year just to lease and manage this warehouse. In addition, even though the net number of people traveling via air has decreased, TSA has actually hired more employees.

President Obama has thrown TSA on the sequestration table because he knows Americans care about terrorist threats and air safety. The truth is, like with any government budget, the federal budget is full of fat and waste. Programs could be cut, funding could be reduced, and our nation would still stand. In fact, it would be healthier to make serious cuts to the federal budget. If anyone ever needed reassurance that America is one big fat welfare entitlement state – and over-extended militarily throughout the world – the sequestration fight lifts the veil on this reality. You can measure our dependence on government by the decibel level of the people screaming to maintain funding

It’s important to realize that federal spending still goes up, even with sequestration. It just doesn’t go up Obama-fast. Either way, a dependent Utah will be scrambling to balance its budget.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.