Feb 24 2013
The other day, a Facebook "friend" ( friend being a rather incorrect term-better defined as "someone I used to know and work with and have little, if anything, in common with now -save for the fact we both served in the US Navy")
"Sequestration and its impacts are the choice of officials executing the budget. As a start, I would rather see the $2.2Billion Obama phone program go away before any "first responders" President Obama is saying will go. What is more important?
And so off he goes with a self satisfied "tut tut" -and his "acquaintances" chime in with congratulatory agreement. Well some did any way, there were also subsequent comments, which were subsequently deleted by the owner of the FB page-which pointed out how basically incorrect his position is, as stated. Guess he did not want his friends to see how easily such arguments can be debunked.
This particular exchange highlights in a most elegant way-the fundamental problem that is currently present in American political discourse. On the surface he sounds correct-if not more than a bit arrogant and self-righteous. But the truth is, none of what he says is correct. That so many supposedly "knowledgeable" Americans agree with him-when the facts are 180 degrees in opposition- should trouble any rational person. Conservatives may be entitled to their own opinions. They are not, however, entitled to their own facts. Despite their attempts to create an alternate news universe-one where a person solely reads IBD, FOX, Weekly Standard, the NRO-and of course the dregs of American Society: John Hinderaker and the liars club-facts are facts.
If you lived in the fact free world that he lives in-of course you think its all correct and a great sentiment. But when the facts are exposed, well, nobody likes to be outed as an ignorant fool.
Fact #1: There is no such thing as an Obamaphone program. As much as his enemies like to blame every problem in the world on the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, this expenditure whether for right or wrong, cannot be blamed on President Obama. Free and discounted phone service to low-income families has been mandated by the federal government since 1934, paid for by "above-cost" fees charged directly by phone companies to regular subscribers. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 codified the program and set up an independent corporation, the Universal Service Administrative Company, to facilitate the service, properly called "Lifeline". Cell phone distribution was made a part of the provisions of the act in 2008, while a certain George W. Bush was still President. Yet, no one calls it the "Bush" Phone. (Maybe it should be called the "Roosevelt" phone) Instead they reserve it as a convenient lie to call it an Obama phone, because it serves their agenda to have dim witted people believe the conclusion that it was a new federal program. It was not. It was an expansion of the existing program and implemented on a state by state basis. Nonetheless it gives conservatives -especially those of the teabagger variety- an attitude of gleeful gross-out humor, like a fifth-grader making fart noises – though with an undercurrent of racism far nastier and more base than any bodily function.
And while we are on the use of the word "teabagger", you can spare me the righteous indignation at the use of the term. As I have repeatedly pointed out before, its arrogant on two fronts: 1) because the Tea Party originated the term and 2) despite the sexual connotation to the term "teabagger", when used to describe the tea party, it is simply a mild pejorative used to spell out a well deserved contempt. So if it bothers you-that is just too bad.
Fact#2: Even if the cell phone program were eliminated in its entirely, it would-with pretty much 100% certainty-not prevent cuts to the first responders program. It also would not reduce by one dollar the amount taken from the Pentagon budget. One of the biggest problems with the whole idea of sequestration is the approach it takes to making cuts to the federal budget. The governmental equivalent of using a meat cleaver to perform surgery to remove an appendix instead of a small scalpel in the hands of a trained surgeon. You can do it-but your odds of killing the patient go up dramatically. I mean, think about it: the Lifeline program is not even funded by tax money. So unless Congress passes a law to amend the Telecommunications Act, something completely different from enacting cuts under sequestration, the program will still go on even after March 1st. Whereas 1st responder funds-especially for federal agencies such as the Coast Guard, FBI, other law enforcement agencies and grants to states-will be funds that will be under the gun as so called "discretionary" non defense spending. The author of the sentiment, since he is working in the Pentagon, should know this. Sequestration forces across the board cuts of non-exempt, non-defense discretionary funding by 8.2 percent. Non-exempt, non-defense mandatory programs see a 7.6 percent reduction. There’s not, however, much left to cut in this category because the large mandatory programs were largely shielded from the cuts. Medicare cuts were specifically limited to 2 percent of the program’s budget. On the defense side of the equation, similar levels of cuts apply. Its not an either / or type of choice-the question is more properly framed as "Do you cut both sides of the pie or not?".
Now it may be, that in a time of fiscal austerity, that a program that assists people making just 22,300 a year or less ( 135% of the poverty line), which is an income 85% less than the individual who authored the above listed FB sentiment (His salary, as is mine, is a matter of public record)-may be no longer affordable. I don't know about you-but trying to make ends meet on that amount of money in today's economy is tough. There are legitimate arguments in favor of this kind of assistance-particularly in an interconnected world. However any such reductions should happen as part of a rationale budget process-something our GOP led House of Representatives has proven itself unable to do for several years now.
Fact #3: Sequestration itself does very little to reduce the growth of the deficit. The dirty little secret about the process, like so much of the political grandstanding that occurs in Congress these days, is that even with the cuts-they will not do much to impact the deficit. They will do a lot to hurt middle and lower class Americans though. As Paul Krugman points out, it is the height of arrogance to take pleasure in the fact that the sequester will only cost 700,000 jobs:
As always, many pundits want to portray the deadlock over the sequester as a situation in which both sides are at fault, and in which both should give ground. But there’s really no symmetry here. A middle-of-the-road solution would presumably involve a mix of spending cuts and tax increases; well, that’s what Democrats are proposing, while Republicans are adamant that it should be cuts only. And given that the proposed Republican cuts would be even worse than those set to happen under the sequester, it’s hard to see why Democrats should negotiate at all, as opposed to just letting the sequester happen.
So here we go. The good news is that compared with our last two self-inflicted crises, the sequester is relatively small potatoes. A failure to raise the debt ceiling would have threatened chaos in world financial markets; failure to reach a deal on the so-called fiscal cliff would have led to so much sudden austerity that we might well have plunged back into recession. The sequester, by contrast, will probably cost “only” around 700,000 jobs….
And the effect on the deficit? Not much at all-especially if health care costs continue to rise. And, as CBO has pointed out-they certainly would not be as effective in halting deficit growth than simply letting all the Bush tax cuts go away and lifting the cap on Social Security payroll taxes would be.
There is a right way and a wrong way to cut federal spending, but the sequestration plan about to go into effect is perhaps the most boneheaded approach that could possibly be concocted. The sequester won't reduce the deficit by anything close to the $85 billion that's being advertised. What's more, it may not reduce the deficit at all. But hey, why let facts get in the way of righteous indignation?
It would seem to a certain segment of America, its better just to huff and puff and make loud noises. Without bothering to understand the true facts. What, to me, is even more disturbing is that some of the loudest voices in the "just make people suffer" movement, are coming from people such as the FB poster above-who are the most deeply dependent on government benefits and will be for the rest of their lives. He decries governmental largesse-while at the same time he will benefit quite appreciably from it.
There are things that can be done to get the government's financial house in order. But to go about it from a factually inconsistent position-which reeks of hypocrisy-is not a way to start down the path. "Friends" don't let "friends" indulge in conservative stupidity.