Dr. Thomas Sowell, the Stanford University based economist, wrote this week that when he was teaching he would ask his students to consider 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?” Sowell posits that the agency would naturally cut back on medications for children. He explains that is the only result that would lead to getting the budget cuts restored. And he pointedly explains why the government wouldn’t cut back on the silly statues: “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.”
Dr. Sowell is absolutely correct! Years ago, when I served on a local school board I witnessed this almost reflexive response every year the budget was tight. The most absurd things were never offered for cuts. They always threatened to cut the things that would most outrage the public. They talked about cutting bus routes for kids that lived far away from schools. They talked about crowded classrooms.They talked about cutting varsity football even though it is self-sustaining and often a money maker. But they never talked about smaller pay increases, or reducing administrative staff at the county office building, or reducing a single thing that parents and tax payers would approve of.
By refusing to cut waste and instead proposing to cut important or popular programs, local officials often got low-information parents to clamor for higher taxes so that the schools wouldn’t “suffer.” The reality is, they could have maintained educational quality and cut the wasteful and stupid stuff from the budget. But they never tried that. They were not interested in an efficiently and well run educational system, they just wanted more tax dollars to spend. Threatening to cut important stuff brings more money. Cutting the stupid stuff only reduces their power and budget. They chose more money, not better and more efficient schools.
Barack Obama is clearly well trained in this same ploy.
Leading up to the sequester, Obama could have shown leadership and promised to cut one or two cents out of each dollar spread out over the next few years by reducing waste. Instead, Obama ominously warned that immediately upon enactment of the sequester, there would be airport delays and implied that planes might fall out of the sky, that teachers, firefighters and police would lose their jobs, that meat would not be inspected and likely be tainted, that kids and seniors would miss meals and be denied needed care, that criminals would be released (and his administration released criminals in violation of law to make their point), and that the ranks of the unemployed would swell, that Capitol Hill janitors would have their pay cut and that teachers in West Virginia had already been pink-slipped because of the threat of sequester.
None of these claims were remotely true and most were obviously false to anyone but the most uninformed. Simply stated, the administration was purposefully trying to mislead America. Even the Washington Post awarded four Pinocchios for dishonesty for a number of these claims.
This dishonest fear-mongering is simply evidence of corruption. Obama is telling Americans, give me more of your money or I will make your life difficult. Give me more money or you will suffer. I will release criminals. I will make airports a disaster area. I will make sure that seniors and children suffer, unless you pay up. What Obama is doing is not substantially different from a mob boss threatening local businesses with a myriad of troubles unless they pay him protection money. It is a corrupt shakedown.
Earlier today, the Administration announced that it was canceling self-guided tours at the White House. Yes, you read that right — self-guided tours — tours without a guide — are cancelled. This is a childish temper tantrum.
I am not a fan of the sequester, because it both cuts too little and it cuts the wrong things. But given Obama’s refusal to admit that Washington has a spending problem, sequester may be the only way to begin cutting spending — at least until there is a grown-up in the White House. The sequester is a stupid way to cut budgets — if you have people of good faith trying to reduce wasteful spending.
On the one hand, it does not actually reduce federal spending. It merely slows the rate of growth. On the other hand, the sequester will cut the wrong things. It treats all spending the same. Waste, fraud and abuse are cut no more than vital programs. That is stupid.
A grownup would go through the budget line by line and zero out programs that are wasteful and accomplishing little. A grownup would reduce spending where it is out of line with needs, and maintain spending in vital areas where it is effective, efficient and properly the role of the government. It is even possible that some areas of government spending should increase. But overall, the budget must be significantly reduced.
Sadly, there are no grownups in the White House, just dishonest fear mongers hoping extract some additional protection money from the taxpayers.
House Republicans offered to pass legislation to allow the Administration to reduce the impact of the sequester by allowing flexibility in what is cut so the important stuff isn’t hit. But Obama said he would veto such a bill. He wants a crisis so he can demand his protection money.
Administration officials have told federal officers not to use their discretion to cut waste rather than vital programs, but instead to make sure that their doomsday predictions come true. The Washington Times reported that a federal official said he was instructed, “however you manage [the sequester] reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be.” In other words, the administration effectively said, “Whatever you do, make sure it hurts.”
There you have it — Obama, the man who campaigned on hope and change, is demanding protection money. His administration is shouting, “Pay-up. or you will regret it!”
– – – – – – – – – – – –
George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. Mr. Landrith is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. Mr. Landrith was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia. You can follow George on Twitter @GLandrith.