SOUDER: When a cut isn’t a cut, or Chicken Little strikes again

-A A +A

You will have to decide for yourself.

By Chuck Souder

Perhaps you’ve heard the old joke about the woman who received a call from her bank informing her that she had overdrawn her account. “That’s impossible,” responded the obviously offended woman. “I can’t be overdrawn – I still have checks!”

Unfortunately, that seems to be the stance of our current administration in Washington, D.C., as they steadfastly refuse to consider any modicum of fiscal responsibility. If you are one who at some point has tried to keep up with politics at the national level, it would be hard to blame you if you eventually just became so cynical that you simply threw up your hands in disgust and gave up on the whole lot of them.

If that’s the way you feel, I can sympathize. Since last November’s elections, I personally have watched only about 20 minutes total of any evening news programming.

That’s not to say I haven’t been paying attention. Almost every morning I scan the headlines of the newspaper and read some news and commentary from the Internet.

What I’ve discovered is that the carnival in our nation’s capital is much like the soap opera I remember a co-worker watching many years ago. Every day on his lunch break, he liked to watch Days of Our Lives. Although our lunch breaks only overlapped once a week or so, I found that no matter how long it had been since I saw the show, I still always knew the storyline because it never seemed to change.

The same could be said for the goings-on in Washington. For the past several months the storyline hasn’t changed. No matter when you listen to the news or pick up the newspaper, it seems that our leaders are always in crisis mode, trying to scare up headlines about whatever big dilemma they have caused and are desperately trying to blame on someone else.

The current manufactured crisis du jour has the administration doing its best imitation of Chicken Little, screaming “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” at the top of their lungs about the so-called budget cuts that go along with the president’s plan known commonly as “the sequester.”

I say the cuts are “so-called” because, as usual, nothing is actually being cut. Yes, you read that right. No program, no budget, no nothing. As I have told you before, when politicians in Washington talk about spending “cuts” they are 99.9 percent of the time actually referring to budget increases that simply aren’t as big as they might have been otherwise.

Only in Washington is a decrease in the increase called a cut. If you were hoping for a 5  percent raise but only got a 4 percent raise, would you go around telling everyone that your employer had cut your salary?

To make all the scare tactics even more ridiculous, these “decreases in the increases” are spread out over 10 years. Further, even with all the “draconian cuts” about which the president has been wringing his hands (even though last year he threatened to veto any bill that tried to change them), we will still spend more this year than we did last year, and will continue spending more each year than we had the year before for the foreseeable future.

Still, because some departments budgets aren’t being raised by as much as was anticipated, some planned programs or expenditures may indeed have to be trimmed. But even though the amount to be trimmed is a small drop in the ocean of our multitrillion-dollar budget, reports are out this week that the president has instructed each department to make the cuts as painful as possible.

In other words, instead of cutting worthless programs that no one would miss (and that we shouldn’t be doing anyway), the president and his supporters threaten job losses for teachers, law enforcement officers and air traffic controllers and warn that kids will have to do without vaccines.

Why would they do that? Simple. As columnist Ben Shapiro writes, their plan is to cast all spending as vital and all cuts as devastating, making it seem like we can’t live without anything our bloated federal bureaucracy provides.

The craziness that is Washington’s budget politics game is described well by a scenario that Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and former university economics professor used to pose to his classes. “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.”

Of course, that is a deliberately extreme illustration, but similar situations can be found regularly in governmental responses to budget cuts.

If you aren’t convinced, consider that Congressional leaders tried to give President Obama the power to select where to implement the cuts rather than letting them fall arbitrarily as the sequester calls for. He responded by threatening to veto any such proposal.

Again, Shapiro writes, the president “has chosen to cut where it hurts most. He hasn't chosen to cut the Transportation Security Administration's $50 million uniform makeover. He hasn't chosen to cut grants to develop robotic squirrels for use in research. He's reportedly chosen to cut Medicare funding, military pay, funding for air security, Navy patrols and Border Patrol agents.”

John Stossel recently pointed out other “crucial” programs that could have been cut but weren’t: $140,000 to study pig feces in China; $100,000 for a video game about aliens saving planets from climate change; $88,000 for a comedy tour in India called "Make Chai, Not War"; and $55,000 to study immaturity and drinking. These examples don’t include the millions that go to the National Endowment for the Arts and other programs that are questionable at best.

In addition, the threat of having to furlough federal workers because of the sequester has been used as another scare tactic. But as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions pointed out, if the President would have simply forgone his recent golf outing with Tiger Woods, 341 jobs potentially furloughed jobs could have been saved. But, hey, what are a few hundred jobs when you have the chance to play golf with Tiger Woods, right?

So the next time you see some breathless news anchor talking about the looming “Budget Armageddon” or hear a politician trying to work a crowd into a frenzy over the jobs that will be lost, or the kids that will starve, or some other impending disaster that is certain if the government doesn’t spend at ever-higher rates, just remember the words of James Madison, “Crisis is the rallying cry of the tyrant.”

Because the reality is that the bank has called and the government has overdrawn their (our) account (by over $1 trillion in each of the past five years). And as Margaret Thatcher said, eventually you run out of other people’s money.

Even if you still have checks left.


Chuck Souder is on staff at Shelby Christian Church. He can be reached at csouder@shelbychristian.org. Find other columns by Souder at www.SentinelNews.com/columns.