There really isn’t a good way to lead into this, so we’ll just let it rip…
What Mary is prattling on about is the sequester, which is the biggest political non-story of this millenium so far. The sequester essentially amounts to a reduction in the rate of growth of the federal budget. And no, the sequester does not mean that every single function of the federal budget will be affected; the Wall Street Journal did yeoman work today exposing that myth for the falsehood it is…
According to Mr. Obama and his budget office, the sequester cuts are indiscriminate and spell out specific percentages that will be subtracted from federal “projects, programs and activities,” or PPAs. Except for the exemptions in the 2011 budget deal, the White House says it must now cut across the board regardless of how important a given PPA is. Food inspectors, say, will be treated the same as subsidies for millionaire farmers.
Not so fast. Programs, projects and activities are a technical category of the federal budget, but the sequester actually occurs at the roughly 1,200 broader units known as budget accounts. Some accounts are small, but others contain hundreds of PPAs and the larger accounts run to billions of dollars. For the Pentagon in particular, the distinction between PPAs and accounts is huge. This means in most cases the President has the room to protect his “investments” while managing the fiscal transition over time.
Congress might have intended for the sequester to apply to PPAs, but they also wrote a sloppy law at the 11th hour. The Budget Control Act of 2011 disinterred the lapsed sequester rules of the Gramm-Rudman Deficit Control Act of 1985, though without anyone looking at the details.
Gramm-Rudman said the sequester applies to accounts, not PPAs, under a temporary “part-year” budget. As it happens the government is operating under just such a continuing resolution now, not a normal appropriations bill. If Congress returned to regular order in 2014 or later, the sequester would indeed trickle down to PPAs.
The White House has even more discretion than this. When Gramm-Rudman led to a 4.3% sequester in 1986, Congress passed a special bill that created the category of PPAs and spent 1,119 pages defining what they were for 1986. Congress has never done anything of the sort since, and thus as the government has grown PPA definitions now vary among Cabinet departments and sometimes even account to account in the same department.
Lacking legislation, the White House assigns these amorphous units in its annual budget. Even if the lawyers insisted the sequester must apply to “PPAs” per se, the budgeteers could formally construe PPAs in ways that preserve a work-around.
This White House has never been fussy when a statutory text or even the Constitution interferes with its political ambitions. (See ObamaCare, immigration executive orders, recess appointments and much else.) Could it be that Mr. Obama is exaggerating the legal stringency of the sequester in a gambit to force Congress to shut it off?
One supposes that Mary never read today’s WSJ story. Or rather, maybe she stopped after the first paragraph…
And when the Republicans opened the seventh seal of the sequester, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black and the stars fell unto the Earth; and our nation’s ability to forecast severe weather, such as drought events, hurricanes and tornados, was seriously undermined. Lo, and the children were not vaccinated, and all the beasts starved in the zoos, and the planes were grounded.
One also supposes that Mary isn’t aware the minimum wage is $7.25 rather than $6, the figure she ascribed to the wife/aspiring nursing school graduate in her example.
But what’s most instructive is that Mary thinks it’s a good analogy that a down-on-its-luck family would generate another wage earner or work longer hours in the same way the federal government would just raise taxes.
Er, no. The Senator might want to rethink that analogy in advance of next year’s election. Otherwise, she might run across a challenger who examines her analogy and concludes that what’s more akin to a tax hike is a family which takes to burglarizing its neighbors and fencing the resulting swag to make ends meet. Particularly if said family is keeping giraffes in its back yard, dining with solid-gold sporks and keeps Dom Perignon on tap while bouncing checks at the local Urban Outfitters outlet.
Mary doesn’t seem to understand that a $3.6 trillion federal budget represents a breathtaking waste of money in the eyes of the vast majority of the public. Or more to the point she understands it fine but thinks a majority of her constituents back home in Louisiana are too stupid to get it.
Here’s hoping a challenger emerges next year capable of exposing the vapid gobbledygook of our senior senator for what it is. Landrieu’s lust for tax increases in Louisiana to prop up extravagance in Washington, where she and her husband apparently cheat on the property taxes on their $2 million mansion, can’t possibly be defensible to the voters.