President Obama’s plea this morning to avert the $85 billion sequester before March 1 was instantly ridiculed by Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, as a “campaign event.” That’s presumably because the president spoke in front of a group of emergency responders whose livelihoods are threatened by the indiscriminate spending cuts, just as he often used middle-class Americans as backdrops on the campaign trail.
Fine, the emergency workers were props, just like the people who have filled the first lady’s box at State of the Union speeches for decades. But there’s nothing wrong with the president using federal employees as illustrations, since workers are going to bear the brunt of the sequester’s pain. He could just as easily have lined up a group of federal meat inspectors since they will be going on furlough in a few weeks, resulting in grocery shortages. Or a group of air traffic controllers. Or cancer researchers. Or Head Start teachers. Or prison guards.
All of them will be working less in the coming months if Congress does not avert the sequester, producing backups in their specific fields that will be felt by all Americans, as well as a slowdown in spending and financial activity that will have an asteroid-like impact on the economy. The president is driving Republicans a little crazy by holding these illuminated events, because they vividly undermine the basic Republican tenet that vastly reduced spending is good for society — getting government out of the face of Americans who hate it — and good for the economy.
Cancer researchers are American government, and if Republicans don’t think their work should be supported by taxpayers, they are free to make their case publicly. But they won’t do that, because the various government functions facing cuts are both necessary and popular. Instead they talk in dire but abstract terms about the debt threat, pretending there is no need to ever raise taxes, and hoping that voters won’t remember what their dollars actually pay for.
“This is not an abstraction — people will lose their jobs,” Mr. Obama said today. “The unemployment rate might tick up again.”
Not my normal style to post political opinion, but this one is indisputable. I worry for my friends at FEMA, EPA, NOAA, NSF, and even universities conducting important research in climate and disaster management. Their jobs are at stake, and the safety of Americans are, as well. Why?
To many politicians, teachers and firefighters are targets NOT because these cuts actually save money. No. It’s because these are the cuts that the public can “see.”
It is insane to me that obsolete, wasteful projects like the Joint Strike Fighter (2,500 jets for $250 billion? A quarter trillion dollars for a plane that doesn’t work?) or buying new nuclear submarines (more billions) are exempted from sequestration, while things like weather satellites and even smokejumpers are on the chopping block.