The Growth Fairy Model

From Kevin D. Williamson:

Every Republican tax-reform plan should be rooted in this reality: If you are going to have federal spending that is 21 percent of GDP, then you can have a.) taxes that are 21 percent of GDP; b.) deficits. There is no c.

If, on the other hand, you have a credible program for reducing spending to 17 or 18 percent of GDP, which is where taxes have been coming in, please do share it.

The problem with the Growth Fairy model of balancing budgets is that while economic growth would certainly reduce federal spending as a share of GDP if spending were kept constant, there is zero evidence that the government of these United States has the will or the inclination to enact serious spending controls when times are good (Uncork the champagne!) or when times are bad (Wicked austerity! We must have stimulus!). So even if we buy Jeb Bush’s happy talk about growth, or Donald Trump’s, the idea that spending is just going to magically sit there, inert, while the economy zips forward and the tax coffers fill up, is delusional.

There are no tax cuts when the government is running deficits, only tax deferrals.

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The Left Won’t Let the Amtrak Tragedy Go to Waste

From Charles C. W. Cooke:

It took just a few sorry hours for the news to become politicized. On Tuesday evening, we were told of a tragedy. An Amtrak train running between New York City and Washington D.C. had derailed disastrously at Philadelphia, killing eight and wounding two hundred. By Wednesday morning, tragedy had become transgression. Speaking from the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest explained that he didn’t know for sure why the train had crashed, but that it was probably the Republicans’ fault. “We have seen a concerted effort by Republicans for partisan reasons to step in front of those kinds of advancements” that would have prevented crashes such as this one, Earnest proposed slyly. His message: “Yeah, the conservatives did it.”

Before long, this theory had become omnipresent on the Left. At PoliticsUSA, Sarah Jones complained that, “gambling with Americans lives,” “reckless Republicans” were planning to respond to the “deadly derailment with more proposed cuts to Amtrak.” At MSNBC meanwhile, erstwhile transportation expert Rachel Maddow contrived to play Sherlock Holmes. “There’s no mystery about this disaster in Philadelphia,” Maddow submitted, ‘and there will be no mystery when it happens again.” The culprit, she proposed, was a lack of infrastructure spending. “This is on Congress’s head.” Not to be outdone, Mother Jones got in on the act, too: “The Amtrak Crash,” Sam Brodey declared excitedly, “Hasn’t Stopped Republicans From Trying to Cut Its Funding.” Well, then.

In all cases, the implication was clear: The dead were dead and the injured were injured because old rails had buckled under new weights; because underserviced wheels had locked up and given out; because the electrical wires that undergird the information systems had finally disintegrated and gone back to seed. Thus was a new tragedy ghoulishly recruited to an old cause. Rare is the day on which we are not told that America’s bridges are crumbling and that its roads are cracking, and that selfish and unimaginative politicians in Washington are rendering the United States as a shadow of its former self. Rare, too, is the day on which it is not asserted by someone that if we would just have the good sense to funnel more money to our favorite groups, we would be able to escape our present economic mess. With the news of a terrible crash, the would-be spenders were given a chance to wave the bloody shirt and to put a face on an agenda. Disgracefully, they took it.

In a sensible world, this execrable line of inquiry would have been abandoned at the very moment that it was revealed that the train had been traveling at almost twice the rated speed limit when it flew off the tracks, and thus that physics, not funding, was the proximate cause of the crash. But, alas, we do not live in a sensible world. And so, rather than conceding that we should treat the questions of infrastructure spending and of Amtrak’s subsidies separately from the questions surrounding this incident, the partisans scrabbled around to find an alternate — and conveniently non-falsifiable — theory: To wit, that if more money had been available to Amtrak’s engineers, they would probably have been able to find a way of saving the deceased. Never mind that the money is already there, but is being spent elsewhere; never mind that the reason that existing “crash-preventing” technology has not been implemented has more to do with “unique” “logistical challenges” than with an absence of funding; never mind that new technology is as capable of failing as old technology. If Amtrak had just had some more money in the bank, something would have been different. If we had rendered unto Caesar what his acolytes had demanded, the laws of physics would have smiled more kindly on the Northeast.

At the Federalist yesterday, Molly Hemingway argued persuasively that this sort of magical thinking is ultimately born of a peculiar form of secular theodicy, in which money has taken the place of piety and in which all accidents, hiccups, and human mistakes can be blamed squarely upon the unwillingness of the American taxpayer to pay their April tithes with alacrity. On Twitter, Red State’s Erick Erickson concurred, writing pithily that “the leftwing reaction to the Amtrak derailment” reminded him of televangelist “Pat Robertson’s reaction when a hurricane hits somewhere.” There is, I think, a great deal of truth to this. In our debates over education, healthcare, energy, and . . . well, pretty much everything, the progressive instinct is invariably to call for more money, regardless of the nature of the problem at hand. Naturally, there is a cynical pecuniary aspect to these entreaties: behind every “for the children” plea, it seems, is a union that is looking to get its claws into your wallet. But there is also a bloody-minded refusal to accept the world as it really is. We do not, pace Thomas Paine, “have it in our power to begin the world over again,” and we never will — however many zeroes the Treasury is instructed to scrawl on its checks. Accidents happen. Humans err. Evil prevails. Perfection is a pipe dream. The question before us: How do we deal with this reality?

On the left, the usual answer is to deny that there is any such reality. Just as conspiracy theorists prefer to take shelter in the comforting belief that 9/11 was the product of omnipotence and not of the unavoidable combination of evil, luck, and incompetence, the progressive mind tends to find calm in the heartfelt conviction that if we adjust our spreadsheets in the right way — and if we elect the correct people to public office — we will be able to plan and spend and cajole our way into the establishment of a heaven on earth. Thus did the arguments yesterday so dramatically shift and bend in the wind. Thus were their progenitors willing to say anything — yes, anything — in order to avoid the conclusion that the world can be a scary and unfair place and that there is often little we can do it about. The crash was caused by a lack of infrastructure spending that has left the railways in a dangerous shape! No, it was caused by a lack of interest in finding a way to prevent human error! No, it was caused by a general American unwillingness to invest in the sort of trains they have in Europe or Japan! Republicans did it! Midwesterners who don’t use trains did it! The rich did it! Quick, throw money at the problem, and maybe it’ll go away!

Throwing money at a problem is not always the wrong thing to do, of course. But one has to wonder where the limiting principle is in this case. There is no department or organization in the world that would struggle to find a use for more cash were it to become available. If our standard is a) that more funding might potentially equal less death, and b) that all death must inevitably be assuaged by more funding, we will soon run out of treasure. Alternatively, if the conceit is less absolute — i.e. if we accept that we do not have infinite resources and that this debate is there about priorities — one will still have to question the choices that Amtrak’s boosters would have us make. To support federal spending on Amtrak is by definition to suppose that every dollar spent on the trains is money that could not be spent better elsewhere: not by taxpayers; not by businesses; not by other parts of the government; not on paying down the debt; not on anything else on this earth. This, naturally, is highly debatable. Per the agenda-less, data-driven denizens of Vox, Americans today are 17 times more likely to be killed in a car accident and 213 times more likely to be killed on a motorcycle than they are to be killed on a train. Trains, in other words, are relatively safe. That being so, one has to ask why anybody would advocate increasing the train budget. By rights, shouldn’t that money be going to General Motors or to Harley Davidson or to the various DMVs up and down the land? Shouldn’t it be “invested” in areas where it will be 17 and 213 times more useful? If it should not, why not? Why do those who wish to spend money on the trains and not on motorcycle safety not have blood on their hands, just as we are supposed to believe that those who wish to cut Amtrak’s budget do? Surely if Harley Davidson had a little more money, they could develop systems to save lives. Why, pray, are they being denied that money?

One’s answers to these questions will vary according to one’s ideological outlook and one’s broader political judgment. For my part, I am not wild about the idea of subsidizing Amtrak at all. Others, I know, want the state to underwrite a much wider network of trains, the better to discourage Americans from flying or from driving their cars. Such disagreements are reasonable and, perhaps, inevitable. And yet they are only instructive when indulged dispassionately. It may make us feel good to hover over rapidly cooling bodies and, searching for anything that might assuage our grief, entertain our “what ifs” and nominate our villains. But it is certainly no grounds for the establishment of public policy. Whether they are broke or they are flush, terrible — yes, even fatal — things happen to good people all the time. Accepting that this is inevitable is the first step toward maturity. In Philadelphia, the inevitable happened; and “shoulda, woulda, coulda” were the last words of the charlatans.

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Let the Lights Go out so Long as the Pensions Are Paid

From Theodore Dalrymple:

Last night the streetlights in my pleasant little English market town were switched off at midnight. In fact they’ve been switching them off at midnight for two months, but I have not been here to notice it. However, in this little development (or is it a reversal of development?) may be seen all the economic troubles of the whole Western world.

The lights are switched off as a cost-saving measure, not because of the aesthetic and cultural advantages of darkness (which, in my opinion, do actually exist), or because there is anything wrong with the electricity supply. Private houses are unaffected. You can still burn the midnight oil if you want to.

But why do costs need to be cut? A brief description of some of the town’s finances might be helpful. Its most highly paid official receives in emoluments nearly 20 percent of the town’s income through local taxation. The payment of pensions to past employees, which are completely unfunded and must be found from current income, consume another 20 to 25 percent of that tax revenue. Two years ago a former employee took the council to a labor tribunal for wrongful dismissal, and the council spent 66 percent of its income in that year on legal fees. (The employee’s complaints against the council were not upheld, but that was scarcely of any comfort to the taxpayers, for the costs were not recoverable—even though natural justice required that she should be driven into penury and made homeless for the rest of her life to pay for her legal action, which was both frivolous and dishonest.)

Even if it provided no services at all, the council would still run at a deficit if it continued only with its essential business, which is to pay the salaries and pensions of those who work in it, and the various parasitical rent-seekers, like employment lawyers, who live at its expense. And so the bureaucracy (and its hangers-on) does not exist to serve the public, but the public exists to serve the bureaucracy. In the past, the council had reserves to meet its deficits, but these have been run into the ground, and it has therefore had to appeal to other, larger sources of public funds for help, which themselves run on the same great pyramid-principle as that of the town council. Indeed, the whole country, the whole continent, the whole hemisphere is run on that principle.

But what cannot go on forever will not go on forever. The music, if it has not yet stopped completely, is slowing down and growing fainter. The town council finds it more and more difficult to run a deficit, and since it must continue to pay its salaries and pensions or lose its primary purpose altogether, the only option that remains to it is to cut services such as lighting and rubbish collection (already down to once a fortnight, so that many people find themselves not only paying the council for rubbish collection but disposing of their own rubbish).

The curious thing is that the suppression of services has occasioned no public outcry. Why not? The first thing to mention is that a large proportion of the population pays no local taxes—it is too poor, too handicapped, too unemployed, too ill, too unwilling, too dependent on the state already—to do so. Such people feel no outrage because in their hearts they know, as Lear put it, nothing will come of nothing.

As for the taxpayers, they have had a long schooling in low expectations from their taxes: they may pay 40 per cent (80 per cent within living memory) of their income above a certain level in taxes, as well as taxes on everything that they buy or do. But they would not be so foolish as to conclude that therefore their children will be properly educated by the state, or that they will be well looked-after when they are ill. That would not be the case even if they paid 100 percent of their income to the state. So it doesn’t surprise them that the council will do anything rather than reduce payments to its staff and hangers-on. They are resigned to it, and to the council’s motto adapted from the old Roman one. Not “Let the heavens fall so long as justice is done,” but “Let the lights go out so long as the pensions are paid.”

How have we arrived at this situation, which might seem bizarre to a Martian arriving on Earth for the first time? I think the root cause of it is fiat money, the conjuring of currency out of nothing by the central banks. Fiat money has accustomed governments to the idea that they can go on borrowing and spending money forever without ever having to pay it back. This alters their attitude to deficit spending, which is not as the occasion requires (as Keynes envisaged), but permanent, the way we live now. And it alters the whole character of the citizenry as well. For them prudence becomes foolishness and foolishness prudence; speculation is necessary for all who do not want to end up impoverished, and there can be no such thing as enough, even for those who are not greedy by nature, for money is no longer a store of value. More, more, more is necessary, if you want to keep what little you already have.

It was the First World War that taught modern governments to spend in order to pursue ends that they could not afford, in this case mass slaughter lasting four years. Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, said on the eve of war that “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.” He did not foresee that, just over a century later, the lamps would go out in my little town, because the town adopted the same way of financing its activities as that in which the First World War was financed, with the results that we all know only too well.

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Nothing Out of the Ordinary

From the Daily Mail:

Vice President Joe Biden’s costly trip to London and Paris last month just got more expensive.

A newly uncovered receipt from the February trip shows the vice president’s office spent $321,665 to a limousine company in Paris, in addition to the previously reported hotel tabs of $585,000 for one night’s stay in the city and and $459,338 for a night in London.

State department officials say Biden’s staff members, who are not allowed to drive themselves, used the limo company to get around the city. Biden’s limousine was flown in from the U.S.

The limo bill was first reported by CNN after the Weekly Standard discovered the hotel bills online, where federal officials had posted contract filings for the expenses.

During his trip in late February, Biden spent the night at two five-star hotels – one night at the Hyatt Regency London for a total of $459,338.65 and another night at the Hotel Intercontinental Paris Le Grand for $585,000.50.

A State Department official told ABC News that the costs are ‘nothing out of the ordinary.’

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Obscene

From SFGate:

Alameda County supervisors have really taken to heart the adage that government should run like a business — rewarding County Administrator Susan Muranishi with the Wall Street-like wage of $423,664 a year.

For the rest of her life.

According to county pay records, in addition to her $301,000 base salary, Muranishi receives:

– $24,000, plus change, in “equity pay’’ to guarantee that she makes at least 10 percent more than anyone else in the county.

– About $54,000 a year in “longevity” pay for having stayed with the county for more than 30 years.

– An annual performance bonus of $24,000.

– And another $9,000 a year for serving on the county’s three-member Surplus Property Authority, an ad hoc committee of the Board of Supervisors that oversees the sale of excess land.

Like other county executives, Muranishi also gets an $8,292-a-year car allowance.

Muranishi has been with the county for 38 years, and she’s 63. When retirement day comes, she’ll be getting a lot more than a gold watch.

That’s because, according to the county auditor’s office, Muranishi’s annual pension will be equal to the dollar total of her entire yearly package — $413,000. She also has a separate executive private pension plan, for which the county chips in $46,500 a year.

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The Concentration of Wealth

From Daniel Greenfield:

Time and time again, the liberal defenders of government power have attacked any call for reform as a plot by the wealthy. Even now New York Times editorialists pound their keys about the “Concentration of Wealth”, invoking presidents from Andrew Jackson to Theodore Roosevelt. But in our America, the “Concentration of Wealth” is not found in the hands of a few billionaires. It is found in the hands of the government.

The editorialists talk about the income gap and how much wealth is held by the top 1 percent of the country, but they are leaving something out. Their statistics deal with individuals, not institutions. And it is institutions which threaten our liberties, not individuals.

The top 10 wealthiest men and women in America barely have 250 billion dollars between them. That sounds like a lot of money, until you look at annual Federal budgets which run into the trillions of dollars, and the country’s national debt which approaches 15 trillion dollars. And that’s not taking into account state budgets. Even Rhode Island, the smallest state in the union, with a population of barely a million, has a multi-billion dollar budget.

As the 10th richest man in America, Michael Bloomberg wields a personal fortune of a mere 18 billion dollars, but as the Mayor of the City of New York, he disposes of an annual budget of 63 billion dollars. In a single year, he disposes of three times his own net worth. A sum that would wipe out the net worth of any billionaire in America. That is the difference between the wealth wielded by the 10th wealthiest man in America, and the mayor of a single city. And that is the real concentration of wealth. Not in the hands of individuals, but at every level of government, from the municipal to the state houses to the White House.

While liberal pundits pop on their stovepipe hats, fix their diamond stickpins and cravats, and trade in 19th century rhetoric about the dangers of trusts and monopolies– the power in 20th century America lies not in the hands of a few industrialists, but with massive monopolistic trust of government, and its network of unions, non-profits, lobbyists and PAC’s. The railroads are broken up, offshore drilling is banned, coal mining is in trouble and Ma Bell has a thousand quarreling stepchildren– now government is the real big business. How big?

The 2008 presidential campaign cost 5.3 billion dollars. Another 1.5 billion for the House and the Senate. And that’s not counting another half a billion from the 527’s and even shadier fundraising by shadowy political organizations. But that’s a small investment when you realize that they were spending billions of dollars to get their hands on trillions of dollars.

Do you know of any company in America where for a mere few billion, you could become the CEO of a company whose shareholders would be forced to sit back and watch for four years while you run up trillion dollar deficits and parcel out billions to your friends? Without going to jail or being marched out in handcuffs. A company that will allow you to indulge yourself, travel anywhere at company expense, live the good life, and only work when you feel like it. That will legally indemnify you against all shareholder lawsuits, while allowing you to dispose not only of their investments, but of their personal property in any way you see fit.

There is only one such company. It’s called the United States Government.

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Obama is Not a Dictator

He only lives like one.

From Charles C. W. Cooke:

We are now firmly ensconced in the brutal Age of the Sequester, and things in America are grave. The federal government, we learned on Wednesday, is so strapped for cash that the president has been forced to cut off the People’s access to the home he’s borrowing from them. He didn’t want to have to do this, naturally — “particularly during the popular spring touring season.” But then Congress just had to go and acquiesce in measures that the president himself had suggested and signed into law. How beastly! We axed 2.6 percent from a $44.8 trillion budget, and now the president can’t even afford the $18,000 per week necessary to retain the seven staff members who facilitate citizens’ enjoying self-guided tours around the White House.

The executive mansion is not in that much trouble, of course. It’s certainly not in sufficiently dire straits for Air Force One ($181,757 per hour) to be grounded, or to see the executive chef ($100,000 per year) furloughed, or to cut back on the hours of the three full-time White House calligraphers ($277,050 per year for the trio), or to limit the invaluable work of the chief of staff to the president’s dog ($102,000 per year), or to trim his ridiculous motorcade ($2.2 million). If Ellen DeGeneres wants another dancercize session or Spain holds another clothing sale, the first family will be there before you can say “citizen executive.” Fear ye not, serfs: Austerity may be the word of the week, but the president is by no means in any danger of being forced to live like the president of a republic instead of like a king.

When Calvin Coolidge was president in the glitzy 1920s, he took the republican ideal so seriously that he ended up in a series of tiffs with the White House housekeeper, Elizabeth Jaffray, over the cost of state dinners, and took to admonishing the executive branch for using too many pencils. Such behavior now serves only as a punchline to a joke that is not funny. The current annual cost of the White House — just in household expenses, not the policy operations for which it exists — is $1.4 billion: Annually, presidential vacations cost $20 million (the low estimate for one presidential vacation to Hawaii is $4 million, but the true cost is probably five times that); the first family’s yearly health-care costs are $7 million; more than $6 million is spent on the White House grounds each year. Transporting the president cost $346 million last year. But as Michelle Obama might say, America is basically a downright mean sort of place, so the tours will just have to go. One hopes at least that the calligraphers were recruited to sign the docents’ pink slips.

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Harm the Public First

From Thomas Sowell:

Back in my teaching days, many years ago, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency’s budget were cut, what would it do?

The answer, of course, is that it would cut back on the medications for children. Why? Because that would be what was most likely to get the budget cuts restored. If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in the first place.

The example was deliberately extreme as an illustration. But, in the real world, the same general pattern can be seen in local, state, and national government responses to budget cuts.

At the local level, the first response to budget cuts is often to cut the police department and the fire department. There may be all sorts of wasteful boondoggles that could have been cut instead, but that would not produce the public alarm that reducing police protection and fire protection can produce. And public alarm is what can get budget cuts restored.

The Obama administration is following the same pattern. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, released thousands of illegal aliens from prisons to save money — and create alarm.

The Federal Aviation Administration says it is planning to cut back on the number of air-traffic controllers, which would, at a minimum, create delays for airline passengers, in addition to fears about safety that can create more public alarm.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have offered to pass legislation giving President Obama the authority to pick and choose what gets cut — anywhere in the trillions of dollars of federal spending — rather than being hemmed in by the arbitrary provisions of the sequester.

This would minimize the damage done by budget cuts concentrated in limited areas, such as the Defense Department. But it serves Obama’s interest to maximize the damage and the public alarm because he can direct that alarm against Republicans.

President Obama has said that he would veto legislation to let him choose what to cut. That should tell us everything we need to know about the utter cynicism of this glib man.

The sequester creates more visible damage and more public alarm than if the president were given the authority to trim a little here and a little there in the vast trillions of dollars spent by the government in order to make a relatively small “cut” that still leaves total federal spending higher than last year.

Only in Washington is a reduction in the rate of growth of spending called a “cut.” Moreover, costly boondoggles not covered by the sequester can continue to grow.

Obviously Obama wants public alarm, which he can use to help defeat the Republicans in the 2014 elections so that Democrats can take back control of the House of Representatives.

When Obama was offered the authority to make the spending cuts wherever he chooses anywhere in the government’s multi-trillion dollar budget, it was the only power that this power-grabbing president has rejected.

Why? Because with this new power would go responsibility for the consequences of his choices. And responsibility for consequences is precisely what both the Obama administration and the Senate Democrats have been avoiding for years by refusing to pass a federal budget, as required by the Constitution of the United States.

Democrats prefer to get the political benefits from handing out goodies, while Republicans can be blamed for not subsequently raising enough taxes to pay for the Democrats’ spending spree.

If Obama succeeds in maneuvering the Republicans into positions that cause them to lose control of the House of Representatives in the 2014 elections, then as a president who never has to face the voters again, he would be in an ideal position to create a big-spending liberal’s heaven.

But it will be far from heaven for the economy, with Obama-appointed bureaucrats burying businesses in red tape and job-killing costs, while expanding the size and arbitrary powers of government. We could become the world’s largest banana republic.

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Punish Eighth-Graders First

The spiteful decision of a small man.

From The Wall Street Journal:

In its bid to make the sequester as painful as possible, the White House announced Tuesday that it is canceling all visitor tours of the White House “during the popular Spring touring season.” This fits President Obama’s political strategy to punish the eighth graders visiting from Illinois instead of, say, the employees of the Agriculture Department who will attend a California conference sipping “exceptional local wines” and sampling “tasty dishes” prepared by “special guest chefs.”

Yes, even as the White House warns that the modest automatic spending cuts will force the furlough of meat inspectors, two divisions of the Agriculture Department will underwrite the 26th California Small Farm Conference in Fresno next week.

The event will feature USDA speakers, field trips, a banquet and a tasting reception, according to the conference website. Conference organizers promise the tasting will be a “mouthwatering event” featuring “fine wines and exceptional micro-brews paired with seasonally driven culinary delicacies.” How can we sign up?

In April, the penny-pinchers at the USDA will also sponsor the Priester National Health Extension Conference in Corvallis, Oregon. The pressing object of this four-day event will be to “provide resource support to professionals and community leaders working to improve community health,” although attendees will sneak in their own wine tasting. We recommend the state’s pinots.

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn noted in a Tuesday letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that while these conferences may be “fun,” or “even educational,” they reveal an agency unable to set priorities that serve taxpayers as opposed to its own bureaucratic interests. The agency fans public fear about salmonella outbreaks even as its public servants serve themselves haute cuisine.

Mr. Coburn and others are providing Americans with a window on this and other fiscal contradictions at #SequesterThis on Twitter, and we recommend that readers take a look. Then decide if the federal government is so wonderfully efficient that it can only cut spending that most hurts the public.

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Firemen First

From Charles Krauthammer:

“The worst-case scenario for us,” a leading anti-budget-cuts lobbyist told The Post, “is the sequester hits and nothing bad really happens.”

Think about that. Worst case? That a government drowning in debt should cut back by 2.2 percent — and the country survives. That a government now borrowing 35 cents of every dollar it spends reduces that borrowing by two cents “and nothing bad really happens.” Oh, the humanity!

A normal citizen might think this a good thing. For reactionary liberalism, however, whatever sum our ever-inflating government happens to spend today (now double what Bill Clinton spent in his last year) is the Platonic ideal — the reduction of which, however minuscule, is a national calamity.

Or damn well should be. Otherwise, people might get the idea that we can shrink government and live on.

Hence the president’s message. If the “sequestration” — automatic spending cuts — goes into effect, the skies will fall. Plane travel jeopardized, carrier groups beached, teachers furloughed. And a shortage of junk-touching TSA agents.

The Obama administration has every incentive to make the sky fall, lest we suffer that terrible calamity — cuts the nation survives. Are they threatening to pare back consultants, conferences, travel and other nonessential fluff? Hardly. It shall be air-traffic control. Meat inspection. Weather forecasting.

A 2011 Government Accountability Office report gave a sampling of the vastness of what could be cut, consolidated and rationalized in Washington: 44 overlapping job training programs, 18 for nutrition assistance, 82 (!) on teacher quality, 56 dealing with financial literacy, more than 20 for homelessness, etc. Total annual cost: $100 billion-$200 billion, about two to five times the entire domestic sequester.

Are these on the chopping block? No sir. It’s firemen first. That’s the phrase coined in 1976 by legendary Washington Monthly editor Charlie Peters to describe the way government functionaries beat back budget cuts. Dare suggest a nick in the city budget, and the mayor immediately shuts down the firehouse. The DMV back office, stacked with nepotistic incompetents, remains intact. Shrink it and no one would notice. Sell the firetruck — the people scream and the city council falls silent about any future cuts.

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