Thursday, April 4, 2013

Are Republicans Finally Waking Up to the Realities of the Sequester?

Welcome to Reality
With so many insightful investigative report s and op-ed articles appearing online all the time, it's no wonder that so many of us are turning their backs on cable news sources. With so much out there,  scattered hither and thither, it's next to impossible to catch them all.
That's where I come in! Here's an op-ed article that I thought you might find interesting.
President of the United Steel Workers, Leo Gerard has written an excellent piece at In These Times called:

The GOP’s Big Yellow Taxi Syndrome

The same Republicans who thought Norquist's infamous comment about "shrinking government small enough to drown it in the bathtub" was witty and wise are now having second thoughts about the idea. Especially when it comes to cuts that affect their own districts.
Republicans bellyached for years that government must shrink. It had to be smaller. Cut the budget come hell or high water, they yammered. Well, darn if the sequester hasn’t brought hell and high water to Republican districts across America.....

Now that it’s here, now that it’s affecting their constituents, Republicans contend the $1 trillion in indiscriminate, across-the-board budget cuts they demanded should have been specifically targeted to eliminate only “waste, fraud and abuse.”
"Waste, fraud and abuse" is apparently a stock phrase that that been on the lips of the Republicans-especially the Tea Party radicals. And yet, when called upon to explain where they would have cut, (note the past tense) the GOP remained vague and tended to change the subject. It was a phrase that played well in sound-bites on Fox News and back home but, without any specifics, it was about as hollow as Satan's heart.

As Gerard points out, there's no possible way that eliminating every bit of waste, fraud and abuse is actually going to squeeze $1 trillion out of the budget. Anybody who looked at the budget carefully was aware of that before the sequester cuts came into effect. And they knew it while they were supposedly negotiating with the president on the budget. It was their only excuse they could think of not to allow the temporary Bush tax cuts for the 1% to expire or to properly reduce out of control defense spending. 

The Poisoned Tea
The Republicans were lured into this mess by making bedfellows with the strange Tea Party and their backward ideas that all government is evil. As the LA Times explains:
The tea party folks may be sincere, loyal citizens, but their notions about how the economy works are exactly that: mere notions. Their core notion is that government needs to do nothing more than get out of the way of business in order for the economy to boom and bloom.
In an 18th century world or in the fiction of Ayn Rand that might have worked, but the reality is different. The United States became the world's biggest economy in the post-World War II years for many reasons, but one big reason is that government played a pivotal role.
All that in now viewed in hindsight. Cajoled by the loud Tea Party radicals. the GOP played poker with the president, using the federal budget and its detested social programs as their chips and they lost. They were sure the president would cave in at the last moment. They were banking on the idea that the president would surrender his principles about equal taxation to protect those dependent on the social safety nets. In the end, it was a bridge too far and turned out to be and astoundingly dumb misjudgment.

Some analysts are less kind to the Tea Party. As Robert Reich points out
Sequestration grew out of a strategy hatched soon after [The Tea Party] took over the House in 2011, to achieve their goals by holding hostage the full faith and credit of the United States – notwithstanding the Constitution’s instruction that the public debt of the United States “not be questioned.”
To avoid default on the public debt, the White House and House Republicans agreed to harsh and arbitrary “sequestered” spending cuts if they couldn’t come up with a more reasonable deal in the interim. But the Tea Partiers had no intention of agreeing to anything more reasonable. They knew the only way to dismember the federal government was through large spending cuts without tax increases.
Today they- or rather the folks back home- are now becoming dimly aware how big a loss it actually was.

No amount of carping and whining now is going to correct The Great Sequester Miscalculation of 2012 that they foolishly allowed to happen. From now on, there's no going back. 
Suddenly, it seems the Republicans don't like the idea of limiting access to public parks and reducing the number of control towers at smaller airports. Unbelievably, they actually have the nerve to moan about White House tours? 

As their constituents begin to wake up and see what their elected officials hath wrought, many in the GOP are now trying to find somebody to blame. Gerard also notes that:
So far, Republicans haven’t wailed about cuts to programs for struggling families such as unemployment benefits, public housing, daycare aid for poor working women, the home heating help called LIHEAP, or the food assistance called WIC that impoverished mothers use to feed their babies.
Government handouts? No, that's not what's annoying them. They have other priorities.
Instead, Republicans protested cuts to programs more likely to affect wealthier constituents. That is, constituents more likely to make campaign donations.

State by state, the Republicans only now are beginning to realize what the Sequester really meant. A little too late for the millions of voters who needed these programs. And this is only the beginning. 

Speaker of the House John Boehner, whose fingerprints are all over this particular crime scene, recently issued a 85-page report on the effects of the Sequester. The details of the specific reductions each government program conclusively demonstrate what a big fat blunder these cuts actually are.

Sequester Cuts Deep in the Heart of Texas
Ironically, the effects will be felt most strongly in Red States. A Tax Foundation study in 2006 showed pretty clearly that when it came to "makers and takers" of federal funding, the Republican stronghold states are decidedly takers.
There's even more bad news for the Republicans. Half of all budgets cuts will come out of defense spending. Red States like Virginia and Texas, are bound to feel the sting of cuts. For example, one source reports:
The White House estimated the $85 billion in federal cuts would cost Texas hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and tens of thousands of jobs, especially in the defense industry, which receives three-quarters of all federal dollars that flow into the state. It also estimated that funding for Army and Air Force operations in Texas, especially at Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, would be cut by $260 million.
(The Pentagon has yet to release a state by state impact study of this year's 85 billion dollar cuts.) In any case, defense spending had to be cut and the damage those cuts create are a demonstration of the risks state governments take for relying too much on the military-industrial  complex for their bread and butter. 

And the Republicans could well be paying the consequences of the actions for a long time. Demographically, sequester cuts will have impact the youngest members of the voting public. That spells big trouble for the future of the party. (Texas, demographically speaking, is a lost cause for the Republicans anyway.)

The last trump card the Republicans have to play is predictable enough. Blame the president, even if it requires outright lies.  An article in, for example, claims:
The White House has an obligation to make sequestration cuts as nasty, painful, and inconvenient as possible... His fear monger these past few weeks have been predictions of what he knows he will do so he can claim he was right and taxes must be raised while spending must never be cut.
Never mind that Obama had offered  in spending cuts during- even before- the heated budget negotiations. Back in 2011, before there was any mention of fiscal cliffs and sequesters, it was widely reported  that 
President Obama's budget for 2012 takes a sharp knife to government spending, with proposed cuts that will reduce deficits by hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years.
And those weren't just politically-expedient cuts. Proposed White House budget cuts included painful things like heating subsidies for poor but even that did not please the Tea Party Congress. It was used, in fact, to show how heartless the president was. (Of course, eventually those cuts came to pass anyway when the sequester came into effect.) 
Nearly everything was on the table but one thing was simply not negotiable: the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and the Republicans, defenders of the so-called "job creators," balked. Afterwards they had the nerve to boast about what they had done. 

Not in Kansas Anymore
Before the sequester, Kansas congressman for Kansas's 4th congressional district, Republican Mike Pompeo said of the cuts:
"We need to allow it to happen. Then we ought to work to get it right. There are programs that should be cut."
Incidentally, Pompeo's extremely close ties to the pappa-daddy of all Tea Party organizers, the Wichita-based Koch Brothers, have led some to claim that his former company was for all practical purposes a subsidiary of Koch Industries. 

Another Kansas Republican echoed that gung-ho attitude. Congressman Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), a Tea Partier elected in 2010, said after the sequester cuts became effective:

“This will be the first significant tea party victory in that we got what we set out to do in changing Washington.”
It's fair to ask: What does a Tea Party victory really look like?

This year alone, Kansas is expected to lose at least $79 million in funding for the state’s military bases and face about $10.8 million in cuts to education. More than 8,000 civilian Department of Defense employees will be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $36.7 million in total. Justice Assistance Grants which support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives will slashed by about $149,000. According to the White House report:
Kansas will lose approximately $273,000 in funds to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats including infectious diseases, natural disasters, and biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological events...
Kansas would lose about $1.8 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste.
(That last point is great news for Koch Industries- a real Tea Party victory. With a long history of EPA violations costing the company millions, any cut in funding can only be helpful. Just last month it was reported that a unit of Koch Industries would be pay a $380,000 civil penalty to settle alleged Clean Air Act violations at its Iowa and Kansas facilities. According to SourceWatch, in the 1990s, "faults in Koch Industry pipelines were responsible for more than 300 oil and chemical spills in five states, prompting a landmark penalty of $35 million from theEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA)." )

According to The Wichita Eagle some 310 fewer students would receive federal financial aid and 140 fewer would be able to participate in the Federal Work-Study program.
To that, Pompeo says fiddle-de-dee. 
“This small dose of fiscal discipline will need not result in the calamities President Obama is suggesting.”
Accusing the president of exaggeration may not be the wisest policy when voters start seeing the changes for themselves. It certainly doesn't offer them much room to complain about White House tours. 
For the people of Kansas and other red states, they can take comfort in the fact that, by electing the wrong people into high office, they now have a new parking lot where the government used to be. 
*    *    *   *
Like the Jonie Mitchell song,
" You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. They paved paradise and put in a parking lot."
Unfortunately all of the parking spaces are permanently reserved for people like the Koch brothers and the rest of the 1%.