What’s All This Sequester Fuss About?

I thought I was fairly savvy about most items of a political or economic bent; I read a great deal about the topics from a wide array of sources, and I try to keep up with the math. But I just can’t fathom what’s going on right now that has so many people in such a snit. For the better part of five years, I have read op/eds, watched the Sunday sit-arounds, and listened to the nearly nightly ablutions of the Very Serious People, all centered on the the absolute screaming necessity of:

Getting this spending under control, and practicing a little fiscal discipline!!

Now I know that Republicans, for three consecutive sessions of Congress (they controlled the House, Senate, and White House during that time), spent money like the proverbial profligate sailors…that much is clear. Republicans diverged from Democrats under Obama (who saw tax revenues fall due to job losses, and automatic spending raise as the newly jobless put their kids on Medicaid, and registered for unemployment and food stamps.) For the years between 2000 and 2007,  conservatives intentionally poured money into their favorite pet defense programs, and intentionally lowered revenues in two giveaways called, collectively, the “Bush Tax Cuts”, giveaways that largely benefited Americans in the upper third of income earners.

Now, I don’t think there is anything inherently evil about defense programs, and I certainly enjoyed the tax cuts, but I was under the very specific impression that conservatives had been Born Again (again), and had reformed their wayward fiscal souls.

Friends told me (in the campaign of 2008), that they really didn’t like Bush at all (Boehner, Cantor, McConnell and the rest who actually wrote the laws W. signed seemed to have received a pass, but I digress). Almost as soon as Obama won the election, conservatives realized that they would have to tighten the belts…America was going into rough financial seas (that their leadership had nothing to do with), and the Grand Old Party would be there to see that Obama, the Democratic majorities in both houses, and those Republicans masquerading as “Blue Dog Democrats” knew who buttered their bread!

And they have done so…Republican politicians, and the entertainment punditocracy that holds their chains, have been there to be the voice of fiscal reason. They have attacked all Obama spending; apparently domestic spending raises deficits, and not increasing military spending fast enough, oddly, raises deficits. They have also attacked all that deficit-increasing Obama tax-cutting (too much for the working class, not enough for hard-pressed millionaires on their deathbeds or the salt of the Earth financial gurus who made this country great!)

Cut, cut, cut…we need to cut! If we don’t cut spending now, America will be lost! Cut spending now, and stop passing the bills onto our grandchildren! (But p.s., make sure we continue to fund a manned attack plane with questionable capabilities and all of the handicaps on range, maneuverability, stealth, and warload that are inherent in manned strike aircraft.) Don’t spend money on any federal programs…after all, all those landscape contractors that would have been paid millions to redo to the National Mall weren’t really small business owners, they were actually MexicanMuslimMarxists with mayhem on their minds!

Cut, cut, cut…before its to late! Don’t listen to the Godless, Heathen Neo-Keynesians (like Krugman, and Delong, and lesser lights like the publisher of The Rational Middle). Spending is evil incarnate, and government spending never, ever, ever creates real jobs, it only robs the ability of the private sector to create real jobs.

And now we have March 1, a day which should go into the books as a conservative day of fasting and thanks. A day which should be a holiday forever celebrated as Saint Ayn the Fountainhead’s resurrection and ascension into Republican Heaven. (Saint Ronnie the Gipper having been lately demoted on the basis that he was soft on immigration, raised taxes, talked to Democrats, and was once in a union.)

The Sequester happened on that great day of American Salvation…$85.3 billion cut in one fell swoop from one year’s spending. $85.3 billion in cuts that will be repeated every year for the next 8 fiscal years. It isn’t, of course, the $3.0 trillion in programmatic cuts that John Boehner requested way, way back in the antiquity known as 2011, but its a good start (as long as you don’t believe in all of that pesky Keynsian garbage about government spending multipliers and fiscal stimulus.)

Which brings me to my confusion…Republicans are…angry. Republicans (and especially their trolls in the various dark corners of the internet frequented by political junkies) are tripping over themselves blaming President Obama for the Sequester.

Allow me to repeat…

Republicans are blaming President Obama for cutting $85.3 billion in federal spending this fiscal year.

I would have thought they would have sent him the membership card and secret code-breaker ring, and invited him to be the keynote at the inaugural St. Ayn’s Day dinner. I mean, I know that the Sequester was not the doing of President Obama, it was the result of a negotiation attended to (and agreed) by the President along with the Republican House and Democratic Senate. It was the result of a negotiation forced by the refusal of the Republican House to raise the debt limit (something the very same House leadership had done many times for that famous liberal spender, George W. Bush.) But what do Republicans believe (or better yet, what do they think is a politically-expedient truth to peddle?)

The Sequester is the legacy of a broken Washington culture, a culture that includes an innumerate media with no willingness to read a basic text of economics or browse the history of said discipline. The Sequester is the antithesis of what Keynes would have advised. The Sequester is the end-result and best case prescription of the Austrian School (or the Chicago School, or the Freshwater School) of economics which states, emphatically, that fiscal austerity (dramatic across-the-board programmatic cuts) is the best and only way to get out of recession (none of the Very Serious People having looked at Britain’s embrace of both austerity and a douple-dip recession turned mini-depression.)

You remember all of those stories, headlines, rants, and Facebook conversations don’t you? You remember all the people who said they knew, who insisted they knew, who were relentless in their assertion that spending cuts had to happen? From Joe Blow to Sarah Palin, from Father Pontificus Maximus to George Will, everybody you knew was screaming that spending had to be cut.

What are they screaming now that spending has been cut? And what is their explanation for the change in direction?

The Rational Middle is listening…