Posted by Brad @ 12:49 pm on February 25th 2013

I Don’t Care About…Sequestration

And if I have to listen to one more doom-saying about all those draconian “cuts” that will take effect and Wreck Everything…

Let’s make this real, real clear:

What we are talking about is giving everything in government more money next year than we did this last year…but about 2% LESS more money than we would have otherwise. Most of those cuts will NOT be from the money we hand out to taxpayers in the form of Medicare, Social Security, and the like. Most of it will be operational, and will include defense.

And ho no, when I say “defense” don’t get it in your head that we’re taking the equivalent of cops off the street or plucking soldiers from that line they have set up out in the Middle East that prevents terrorists from coming over. Remember, defense spending will not be REDUCED, just increased less – so take heart, even with full sequestration, defense spending will continue to rise steadily thankyouverymuch. The difference works out to roughly a 16% increase instead of 23 – oh and theoretically we’ll have some wars winding down over that period of time (not that they won’t keep spending that off-the-books money). In any case, their will be a few consultants in Northern Virginia that may have to wait an extra year to pay off their second SUV*. We are probably not in any danger of getting Red Dawned.

So, yeah. I don’t even really care that it’s reduced increases in spending done in a less-than-thoughtful way. I am pretty confident that you could put the names of every governmental program and department on a dart board, in a dark room, and still wind up hitting one that can perfectly stand getting 94% of their funding increases for the next decade instead of 100%. The only thing that potentially scares me about sequestration is that markets and consumer confidence may take a hit because everybody seems to LOSE THEIR MINDS when it comes to not increasing the amount of money shoveled at government as robustly as politicians think we should be.

*present company excluded


  1. I also don’t care about horse meat, incidentally, but that probably doesn’t deserve its own post.

    Comment by Brad — 2/25/2013 @ 12:54 pm

  2. Chump change in big picture terms. But the 800,000 DOD employees who face the equivalent of a 20% pay cut might take exception to the “second SUV” categorization.

    Comment by Rojas — 2/25/2013 @ 4:35 pm

  3. Did you know the Department of Defense is the nation’s largest employer? Interestingly, they only list themselves as having 718,000 civilian employees. But, whose counting?

    In any case, oh yeah, that was a totally cheap shot on my part. And hey, sucks for them – many people in the private sector actually lost their jobs since 2001 or saw a huge reduction in their take-home pay or savings, rather than get trillions more dollars pumped into their companies.

    But the DOD has a base budget of more than half a trillion dollars a year (not counting Iraq and Afghanistan). Panetta will tell you that there are absolutely no dollars in that budget that don’t need to be there and will do everything he can to rattle the public’s cages on this to protect the precious, precious budget. That’s his job. And yes, I do believe he would furlough employees over other options for that sake – the Pentagon certainly hasn’t been falling over themselves to try to control their own cutting.

    None of which is the employees’ fault, of course (well, not most of them anyway). But yeah, times are tough all over. I have a little less sympathy for an organization that has to cut payroll after being the biggest growth industry in America largely based on two terrible wars and citizenry and lawmakers who have basically just thrown money at them without thought to ROI, need, or outcome – money that has, my point was, not really translated so much to the salary of the PFC from Omaha out in Tikrit or the armor on his Hummer.

    Comment by Brad — 2/25/2013 @ 5:59 pm

  4. For the most part I am with you, and I say that as a defense sector employee working for a big name in the industry. But your post is exceedingly tone deaf to the thousands upon thousands that will take a 20% pay cut beginning April 22 and continuing for the rest of the fiscal year, with the period beyond that in question.

    Comment by Jack — 2/25/2013 @ 6:23 pm

  5. I’m not one of them, by the way. My pay is fine for this year. But I work with a shit ton of people that are legitimately worried. The nature of the furlough will not allow them to have much in the way of options for off time employment, and given that things like child care costs are often paid monthly, not daily, they can’t even mitigate the pay cut effect with coincidental personal expenditure cuts.

    Comment by Jack — 2/25/2013 @ 6:26 pm

  6. I suppose I have the same feeling about those thousands and thousands as I do about public sector workers in states like California or Wisconsin or auto industry workers in Detroit in the 80s.

    That being, the fundamental human cost here – which I am sympathetic with, absolutely, on a personal level, doesn’t change the fact that the cost is being exacted in part because they are part of an organization that is fundamentally untenable. This has nothing to do with the individual employee, in terms of fault or whatever, but at the same time, as much as that sucks for them, the solution cannot be to just find ways to shovel more money at them (at the ultimate expense, it must be remembered, of other equally real human beings). You want to tell me that I should care about furloughed defense employees more than Social Security recipients? Go right ahead. But the bottom line is the United States government supported a rather massively inflated and artificially ballooned defense sector in large part by taking that money out of other people’s pockets and setting our entire country up for a catastrophic fiscal future.

    There are very real choices that have to be made and, again, my sympathy for any individual person that will be hurt by those choices exists, but isn’t trumping. It’s the same situation New Jersey found itself in – nobody wanted to cut teacher pay or close schools or renegotiate public sector contracts – so Camden New Jersey found itself without a police force. You cannot consider these things in vacuums – it is not a choice between defense sector employees being furloughed 25 days over four months or whatever, and defense sector employees NOT being furloughed. It is a choice between those defense sector employees being furloughed or us spending into further deficit to prevent that (and, actually, the real choice is finding that money somewhere else, and were I said DOD employee myself I would be knocking on the Secretary’s door as to why he’s making those choices). This is the problem with America’s cognitive dissonance on fiscal matters in a nutshell – considering each, disparate case of spending in a vacuum – whether to pay teachers more, or not, and how can you not support paying teachers more?! Why do you hate firefighters? What about those bank employees and the people that depend on them. Autoworkers!

    And all those disparate, vacuum decisions aggregate.

    Oh, and finally, don’t forget that those defense workers salaries are being paid by me. So fine, let’s put that HR budget to a vote, and you guys can make your case as to why my wife and I have to put off having a kid so I can continue supporting the hyper-robust growth and overinflated budget of America’s Department of Defense. You want to talk human cost? Let’s have that conversation.

    Comment by Brad — 2/26/2013 @ 10:31 am

  7. Of course, there is no reason those workers should have to bear the brunt of an organization that loses more than the $5 billion the furloughs will save on redundant inventory alone.

    The DOD is just a very poorly run organization and actually the sequester might be a good thing for them – lord knows anything that forces their director to open up the books, such as they are, is badly needed over there.

    Again, taking this out on the workers is, I think, a transparently political move by Panetta.

    Comment by Brad — 2/26/2013 @ 11:13 am

  8. Heh, rather than link them all, I’d strongly encourage anybody interested to go hit the bookmarks on the right and check out Reason Hit & Run’s posts on the sequester and the sequester panic, which are getting better and better.

    You think I’m tone deaf?

    The White House also warns that “[i]n Arizona [where I live], approximately 10,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed.” That sounds like a great start in transitioning toward a productive economy that blows less stuff up.

    Comment by Brad — 2/26/2013 @ 11:29 am

  9. I disagree with your comparison to the Camden situation. There absolutely was a choice in how the DoD and other federal agencies absorb cuts. The political manuevering, the specifics of the sequester legislation, and the inflexibility of the Continueing Resolution severally limits, if not outright precludes, many of those choices. Had Congress and the President come up with an agreed upon plan that included practically the same level of cuts but allowed them to be included in the POM cycle with deparemental ability to manage how they were implemented, then there would be far, far less ass pain. Given one year, you can manage the cuts via attrition and a planned reduction in force, as just one example. It’s all well and good to swallow the sequester as the only available means that the politicians left us to actually gain some minor control over ballooning federal spending, but let’s not pretend that forced blowjob is without an lot of avoidable pain to the thousands and thousands of workers that did not create the gridlock. So yeah, cut defense, but the sequester is a pretty shitty way to do it.

    Comment by Jack — 2/26/2013 @ 12:20 pm

  10. Sure, nobody argues that the sequester is the ideal way to do it – although, again, I don’t buy that the DOD lacks flexibility here and has to take it out on their poor employees.

    But, let’s also not forget that the sequester is not the failure here. The lack of an ability to agree to spending cuts in government, which would have avoided the sequester that all parties came up with and agreed to – is. Nobody seems to be complaining about that though.

    So, let’s call this three options:

    1. Agree to spending cuts, no sequester, government spending cut.
    2. Not agree to spending cuts, sequester, government spending cut.
    3. Not agree to spending cuts and don’t pass the sequester, no government spending cut.

    Of those, I’m not sure the sequester is the #3 worst option. I might leave that ordered as-is.

    In any event, my real point is that yes the sequester will hurt, but only in the same sense that any government reductions will hurt – the people who rely on government budgets will have less money to rely on. And, for all this sky-is-falling stuff, in the big picture I’m sorry, but the level of cuts the sequester forces just isn’t that big a deal. Yeah it will hurt people directly employed by the government or who depend on its outlays, but, again, you can’t consider that in a vacuum – that money comes from somewhere.

    And yes, you can certainly create, maintain, and increase jobs and benefits when you shovel money into budgets and yes, shoving less money into those budgets will decrease those jobs and benefits. But, again, while I can certainly sympathize on an individual level, that still, to me, does not make the argument that that means we can’t decrease the amount of money shoveled for the sake of those people. That is just a terrible argument, and an even terrible-er way to do business or especially run a government. And if we’re squeamish about forcing DOD employees to take unpaid days off, well jeez, we got no shot when it comes to actually reducing the size of government because really what we ought to do is, you know, fire them.

    For my money, as bad as the sequester is, I think they should set up the damn thing every year until the government runs sustainably or Congress passes budgets to avoid them. DOD employee child care benefits be damned.

    Comment by Brad — 2/26/2013 @ 12:44 pm

  11. Or, as Andrew Sullivan says:

    The public wants cuts; and it wants them overwhelmingly from defense, rather than Medicare. So let the sequester begin. Its the dumbest version of what the American people want but with this Congress [and this administration], dumb is as good as well ever get.

    Comment by Brad — 2/26/2013 @ 1:24 pm

  12. First, I am not even sure who you are arguing with in the majority of that response. It’s not me. As I already stated I am with you on the need for cuts, and if it wasn’t clear I am really with you on the need to cut defense. I am not even saying that the sequester is the worst option if viewed in the vacuum of cuts vs no cuts, though if you have even moderate Keynsian tendencies a strong economic case can be made that they endanger a fragile recovery. The only thing I am saying, is that in your initial post you made no mention of the financial suffering a shit ton of regualr people will face as a result of our politicians intransigence, rather you went out of your way to belittle that sacrifice.

    As for your link in comment #10: it argues precisely the opposite of what you imply. It demonstrates that there is no fleiblity in the current plan, that there is very limited political will to create that flexiblity, and that the named DoD sources clearly state that at this point in the fiscal year it would not do much good. This is precisely the point I made: the manuevering around the sequester has forced the cuts to be made in the least responsible manner, and the people that will be hit are regular workers.

    Comment by Jack — 2/26/2013 @ 2:08 pm

  13. OH I also forgot to mention that thousands of what the federal civil service classifies as “temp” and “term” employees will be fully laid off, not just furloughed, in June. The fulough of the permanant employees is not some sort of PR tactic here, it comes after the department already slashes a bunch of other stuff in the compressed fiscal timeline.

    Comment by Jack — 2/26/2013 @ 2:17 pm

  14. So, the second SUV thing was clearly a cheap shot for effect.

    But again, I don’t think you can pull “human suffering” in a vacuum here. The GOAL is to have less government workers doing less work. Right? That’s what cutting government means.

    And, of course, the cutting is being done in the same haphazard and idiotic way the spending usually is.

    And, finally, “belittling that sacrifice” is a little rich – fair, but a little rich. Yes, there are plenty of regular people that will take a hit here. But, again, let’s give some voice, at least, to the OTHER regular people that take a hit to pay those salaries and, yes, the ridiculously overbloated and self-justified organization they work for. Those people aren’t any less hypothetical than DOD employees being forced to take unpaid time off. I don’t know how much prostration I need to do to the DOD real people for it to satisfy but, again, it is certainly a sacrifice – and so to would it be when they get laid off.

    So yeah, I probably shouldn’t have made the SUV wisecrack. :) And obviously it wasn’t directed at the furloughed worked stiffs, but rather the entire class of defense people who have gotten rich off the new defense and intelligence industries and the bloated, “just throw money at it” approach to national defense and security we’ve taken in the last decade. Maybe I should have said that part five posts ago.

    Comment by Brad — 2/26/2013 @ 2:59 pm

  15. I can live with all that. I spend a lot more of my day arguing with federal employees and active and reserve troops that they are well compensated and don’t deserve a raise during an inflationless recession than I do arguing with you about keeping the human cost in mind.

    Comment by Jack — 2/26/2013 @ 3:45 pm

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