"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Thomas Jefferson

The Sequester: Drama Even Tarantino Wouldn't Touch

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 7
Publish Date: 
Thu, 02/28/2013


This year, Hollywood hit award pay dirt for political dramas inspired by American history. Unlike “The Avengers” -- the top-grossing super-hero movie -- best picture nominees “Argo,” “Lincoln,” and “Zero Dark Thirty” featured authentic, determined and courageous Americans who endured adversity and mortal danger to overcome morally inferior antagonists.

Though we’re living through the umpteenth act of a gory political spectacle involving the US budget, Think Again if you expect that Quentin Tarantino will adapt it for the silver screen.  Devoid of heroes or valiant rescues, the drama serially unfolding in Washington isn’t even telenovela-worthy, particularly the latest installment known as the “sequester.”

The terrifying story-line echoed by media actors playing supporting roles -- draconian spending cuts will trigger airport delays, prisoner releases, uninspected food, heightened risk of terrorist attacks, and Armageddon – is intended to evoke fear and dread, transforming Americans into “Les Miserables.” Taking Harry Truman’s cue, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them,” leading actors willfully neglect to mention that in their parlance, a “cut” means a smaller increase.  Hence, the last time federal spending declined, Marlon Brando and “On the Waterfront” won Oscars. 

As Bob Woodward of “All The President’s Men” fame confirmed, the White House proposed the “sequester” in 2011 during debt-ceiling negotiations in return for raising the limit from $14.3 to $16.3 trillion.  Designed as a “doomsday mechanism” to extract $1.2 trillion from the trajectory of spending growth over the next decade (during which we’re projected to spend $47 trillion), President Obama signed the sequester law in August 2011.

Despite having 18 months to “go line-by-line through the budget,” as Obama frequently promised, and in excess of $120 billion of annual government waste identified by the Government Accountability Office, no agreement was struck to avert this year’s $85 billion in discretionary spending reductions – split equally between defense and domestic programs -- and a 2 percent cut to Medicare providers.  Now, the sky is falling.

ABC White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl chided the hysterics in his column, “Devastating Sequester Spending Cuts? Give Me a Break!” He wrote, “the automatic spending cuts set to go into effect on March 1 will cause some real pain and many economists believe they would hurt the economy. But all the dire warnings give the impression the cuts are much larger than they actually are.”

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the much-maligned sequester merely slows by 2.4 percent the growth of annual federal spending, which climbs by $2.4 trillion (instead of $2.5 trillion) to $5.9 trillion in 2023. Even after the sequester, the federal government will spend $15 billion more this year than last year and 30 percent more than in 2007.  Additionally, after including tax increases agreed to in the “fiscal cliff” deal, the Budget Office projects an $845 billion deficit this year and an $8 trillion accumulated deficit through 2023, by which time national debt will be $26.1 trillion. 

Since Americans live in the world’s largest and strongest economy, we’ve tolerated government excess, even agreeing with Will Rogers who said, “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” But after hurtling through successive manufactured crises, Americans empathize with Rogers who observed, “Last year we said ‘Things can’t go on like this’, and they didn’t, they got worse.”

That’s because, unlike Americans who are accustomed to making hard choices with “True Grit,” the federal government has operated without a budget since before “Hurt Locker” won best picture. Obama’s last two deficit-laden budgets won zero votes in Congress and the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in four years. Consequently, the default budget process assumes ever-increasing spending levels, “From Here to Eternity.”

But avoiding tough decisions means its easier to criticize others who do, like the House which has passed budgets incorporating reforms Obama once promised and his deficit commission recommended, as well as bills to rationally allocate the sequester’s crude cuts.

Seemingly willing to cause Americans to fear more than “fear itself,” the President is traveling the country – at great expense – to campaign against the sequester he proposed, painting rivals as “Inglourious Basterds”. Wouldn’t the national interest be better-served were Obama to propose priority-driven cuts? Why doesn’t he take a cue from Reagan and Clinton and pursue bi-partisan tax and entitlement reforms to boost the economy, address unsustainable growth in mandatory expenditures and secure vital discretionary programs?

After instituting similar reforms, Sweden achieved a remarkable economic turnaround following the 2008 financial crisis, and so can we.  But we’ll need leaders who embody Steven Covey’s “habits of highly effective people” including: accept responsibility for one’s decisions, build cooperative relationships with rivals, take the blame and give the credit. Essentially, the “Silver Linings Playbook” for America requires leaders who are committed to win-win solutions, not merely winning.

Think Again – such a command performance would be a “hot ticket.”

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Melanie certainly does need a

Melanie certainly does need a STURM SPRING! kind of weird that she never mentions the profiteering of Wall Street prior to the QUIET COUP of October 2008?

Swedish economic turnaround? sure it is a LOT easier with only about 9 million people vs. 310 million. Our FEDERAL RESERVE & WALL STREET were piloting the TITANIC.

gee? No reference whatsoever to 2000 to 2008? The Bush/Cheney Debacle swept under the rug? say it ain't so Melanie!

The problem is, the Executive

The problem is, the Executive Branch has the ability to make the effect of the sequester worse (or less worse) because they are the ones who actually run the Federal Government.

Obama warned us for months that the effect of the sequester will be horrible. So he and his underlings now neeed to make sure he's proved right.

For a president to do that -- to try to make things worse for America, rather than better, just so that he can be proved right as a tool to bludgeon his opponents -- is close to treason. But that's another column.

In a piece sprinkled with

In a piece sprinkled with seven cinematic references, Melanie Sturm asks why President Barack Obama doesn't take a cue from Reagan and Clinton and pursue bipartisan tax and entitlement reforms. The best answer is offered by the editor of National Affairs: “Obama wants to alter our American DNA rather than change our European ways.”

Longer version: It's helpful to grasp how “structure” and “relationships” define and bifurcate the titanic battle on the Potomac. The left is trying to avoid a fundamental transformation of the structure of our entitlement programs since liberals believe the structure of those programs is key to sustaining a just society. The right is trying to avoid a fundamental transformation of the relationship of government and society in American life since conservatives believe that the structure of that relationship is essential to freedom and prosperity.

The left would rather see American life altered (with a significantly larger government, a smaller and less active civil society and a more consolidated but less dynamic economy) than see our welfare-state Leviathan reformed. The right would rather see our entitlement system altered (with lumbering universal entitlement programs turned into means-tested and market-based safety-net systems for the elderly and the poor) than see the character of our society transformed.

Shall we alter our DNA — or our profligacy? The sensible answer should be obvious.

Melanie: Another great one!


Another great one! Can I make one other point? It's absolutely disgraceful that Obama is threatening to cut the most vital services and leaving the fat. He's doing it as part of a scare tactic.

If I may offer an analogy. I run all of our household finances. The $85 billion subject to sequester is about 2.5% pf the annual budget. If my working wife told me that we had to make do on 2.5% less money, here's an idea of what I would do in terms of saving expenses: (1) cut entertainment expenses (fewer dinners out, not go to movies as much, cut cable service, etc.), (2) use less gas - plan day to day trips more efficiently, (3) turn the thermostat a bit down in the winter and up in the summer, (4) buy more food in bulk or slightly lower quality, (5) do more coupon clipping, (6) no more impulse buying, (7) see if my wife can brown bag more often, (8) defer buying clothes for Carol and me, and (9) a bunch of other things like 1-8.

By contrast, based on how he's behaving in the sequestration matter, here's what Obama would do: (1) no more doctors' visits (tough luck to my pregnant wife - have the baby at home, like it's 150 years ago), (2) cancel auto and home insurance, (3) no more buying gas for me (and if my vehicle runs out of gas on the way to the gourmet market - because we're going to START lots of gourmet food shopping - tough luck), (4) no more new clothes for the kids, (5) etc.

It's just symptomatic of everything else that is wrong that Obama is doing this and likely will get away with it.

This was a great column

This was a great column Melanie but I disagree with you that the American people are accustomed to making hard choices these days.

Our politicians, including this president only reflect the general population where common sense is lacking, personal responsibility and accountability are non existent and where hard work rather than dependance on the government is no longer the American ethic. When on top of that you you add the corrupting effect that huge amounts of money and lobbyists have on our politics and elections, you really have to wonder who is running this country and for what purpose? This so called sequester "crisis" is just another example how dysfunctional our country has become and unfortunately the American people are running like lemmings towards the "proverbial" cliff.

Sorry for being so negative but it's so discouraging these days.

Melanie- great column today.

Melanie- great column today. Aside from agreeing with the genesis of your conviction, the hollywood references were very clever and spot on. Some I had to look up, to be honest, but it was such a well crafted column I needed to tell you.

very witty, readable and most

very witty, readable and most importantly a huge indictment of Obama. I just fell upon your website while googling. It's wonderful. I've now bookmarked it. You should write more often.

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