Back in my teaching days, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing lifesaving 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 most likely get the budget cuts restored. If the agency cut back on the statues, people might ask why it was building these in the first place.
In the real world, the same general pattern can be seen in the government’s response to budget cuts.
The Department of Homeland Security, for example, reportedly released thousands of illegal aliens from prisons to save money — and create alarm.
House Republicans have offered to pass legislation giving President Obama the authority to pick and choose what gets cut — anywhere in the trillions of dollars of federal spending — rather than being hemmed in by the arbitrary provisions of the sequester.
This would minimize the damage done by budget cuts concentrated in limited areas, such as the Defense Department. But it serves Obama’s interest to maximize the damage and the public alarm, which he can direct against Republicans.
Obama has said he would veto legislation to let him choose what to cut. That should tell us everything we need to know about the utter cynicism of this glib man.
The sequester creates more visible damage and more public alarm than if the president were given the authority to trim a little here and a little there, making a relatively small “cut” that still leaves total federal spending higher than last year.
Only in Washington is a reduction in the growth rate of spending called a “cut.” And costly boondoggles not covered by the sequester can continue and grow.
Obviously Obama wants public alarm, which he can use to help defeat the Republicans in the 2014 elections, so that Democrats can take back control of the House.
With the authority to make spending cuts wherever Obama chooses would go the responsibility for the consequences of his choices. And responsibility for consequences is precisely what both the Obama administration and the Senate Democrats have been avoiding for years by refusing to pass a federal budget, as required by the U.S. Constitution.
Instead, Democrats prefer the political benefits from handing out goodies while Republicans get blamed for not raising enough taxes to pay for the Democrats’ spending spree.
If Obama succeeds in maneuvering the Republicans into positions that cause them to lose control of the House in the 2014 elections, then as a president who never has to face the voters again, he would be in an ideal position to create a big-spending liberals’ heaven.
But it will be far from heaven for the economy, with Obama-appointed bureaucrats burying businesses in red tape and job-killing costs while expanding the size and arbitrary powers of government. We could become the world’s largest banana republic.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover
Institution, Stanford University.
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