Feature

How liberals unwittingly won the sequester

Conservatives learned to love the $85 billion in federal spending cuts. But liberals arguably got the better deal

Remember the sequester? If you're not a federal employee, the odds are that the $85 billion in spending cuts this year — and about $1 trillion over 10 years — aren't at the front of your mind.

The Washington Post recently looked at 48 of the dire predictions from the White House about the effects of budget sequestration — a legislative trigger never meant to be pulled. Only 11 have come true, The Post found, while 24 did not and 13 are up in the air. "The dog barked," Robert Bixby of the Concord Coalition tells The Washington Post. "But it didn't bite" — at least not yet.

If you work for the federal government, however, there's a decent chance the sequester is very real. Some 125,000 employees at the EPA, Housing and Urban Development, IRS, and other federal agencies have been furloughed, and on Monday, 650,000 civilian Defense Department workers joined them. The Pentagon employees will take 11 unpaid days off, or one day a week through September — when the next set of cuts hit.

Many conservatives have come to tolerate, even celebrate, the sequester as a crude way to shrink the government. Many liberals, on the other hand, are frustrated that people aren't seeing the hidden damage of the cuts. Bryce Covert at ThinkProgress runs through some of them:

Low-income preschoolers are being kicked out of their Head Start programs and 70,000 are projected to lose access as a result of sequestration, while schools on military bases and Native American reservations are experiencing debilitating cuts. Domestic violence shelters are reducing services and beds, warning that more women are likely to be killed by their partners because they can't access the help they need. Meals on Wheels programs, which help feed the home-bound elderly, have had to drastically reduce the number of meals they can deliver. [ThinkProgress]

And those 650,000 Defense Department employees will feel the pain, too, says Laura Clawson at Daily Kos. "A 20 percent pay cut over three months is going to be, for most workers, more than can be made up for by just not saving or by cutting the obvious luxuries," she says. "A 20 percent pay cut hurts."

There is real damage being done by the cuts, especially the "genuine tragedy" of kids losing access to Head Start, says Matthew Yglesias at Slate. But the liberal kvetching about the sequester — and the conservatives "crowing that these doomsday scenarios haven't come to pass" — just shows how weird the politics are, says Yglesias. After all, "sequestration mostly cuts things that liberals think should be cut," and by a wide margin.

Recall that sequestration exempted from cuts Social Security, Medicaid, and most means-tested anti-poverty programs. It also cut equally from the military and non-military sides of the budget. But since the military is responsible for less than half of all federal discretionary spending, that means military spending took a bigger hit than any category of non-military spending. Then on the non-military side, Medicare benefits were left intact but Medicare provider payments were cut....

So you have a broad cut in government spending that mostly comes out of the government's various "guys with guns and uniforms" undertakings with some of the rest coming in the form of reduced profits for America's bloated health care industry. The fact that you can cut a lot of this spending without detriment to the welfare of the American people is exactly what liberals have been saying about these programs for years. [Slate]

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