Sequester for Dummies

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					You’ve been having a tough year, Concerned Citizen. You keep waiting for
Congress to take up immigration or guns — something you have an opinion
about. All you get are arcane budget fights. Unless you live in the
Beltway, it’s hard to build a dinner party around sequestration gossip.

Earl Wilson/The New York Times
Gail Collins
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But here we are. Sequester, sequester, sequester. Coming March 1. Ask me
anything:

Did you know one of the most popular TV shows in Norway was about
firewood? Maybe you should have this discussion with a Norwegian.

According to Sarah Lyall of The Times, the book “Solid Wood: All About
Chopping, Drying and Stacking Wood — and the Soul of Wood-Burning,” was
on the Norwegian best-seller list for more than a year. I admit that a
Norway dinner party sounds like a really tough lift. And to anticipate
your next question, the jury is out on whether the bark should face up or
down.

But about the sequester ...

Is this the fiscal cliff where they shut the government down? Because if
it isn’t, I want to wait for that one.

This is the cliff before the one where they shut the government down. You
really need to keep this stuff on a calendar. If the standoff in
Washington continues, at the end of March the government will run out of
money, and families will have to cancel their vacations because all the
federal parks will be shuttered. The sequester kicks in next week and
simply imposes large, irrationally targeted budget cuts. So the parks
will probably stay open, but they’ll lay off the grizzly bear containment
warden.

You’re making up the grizzly bear part.
There reportedly is a projected cut in bear-incident-reduction at
Yosemite. Also, some bad news for protecting the piping plovers in
Michigan. And do not count on finding a comfort station on the scenic
route from Natchez to Nashville.

There are much more dramatic possibilities if the sequester sticks over
the long run; you’re talking $85 billion in cuts over seven months, and
about $1.2 trillion over the next decade. But let’s focus on the first
wave. They’re across-the-board reductions, with every little agency piece
getting a whack. So your opinion about them should depend on whether you
think that government generally does useful things with its money.

I certainly don’t want them to hurt the piping plover.

Cute little birds and animals always get sympathy. If the head of the
National Institutes of Health was a kitten, scientific research would
probably have made the protected-programs list.

Why would they cut scientific research? That’s crazy. The federal budget
is almost $4 trillion. Why can’t they just cut out the most useless
stuff?

Because this was supposed to be a trigger so dreadful and dire and stupid
that Congress would force itself to come up with a reasonable deficit
reduction plan to avoid it. Ha. Ha.

So let them change the rules and tell the agencies to just cut the least
important programs.

Uselessness is in the eye of the beholder. The Pentagon looks at some of
its ships and planes, and sees aging maintenance nightmares we don’t
need. However, Congress thinks they might come in handy. Debates over the
defense budget can sound a little bit like a clip from “Hoarders.” Don’t
touch that cruiser! I might want to fix it up and give it to the
grandkids!

Actually, I think this is a bad time to cut anything. The people keeping
those boats welded together need jobs, too. We should wait until the
economy picks up.

Perfectly rational thought, but remember these sequester cuts are on an
automatic trigger. To avert it, you have to come up with an alternative
that’s acceptable to the Republicans in the House of Representatives —
possibly the only people in the country who would prefer furloughing air
traffic controllers to a minimum tax on millionaires.

O.K., what if you just told the agencies to give Congress some plans on
making things more efficient?

President Obama has been trying, with no success whatsoever, to just get
Congress to promise an up-or-down vote on his plans to eliminate
duplication and inefficiency in the Commerce Department. He’s actually
made several speeches about it, noting the multitudinous different
government entities that currently share responsibility for regulating
salmon.

Salmon?

I brought that one up because I know how much you like critters.

I miss the presidential election and making fun of Mitt Romney’s dog.

We’ll get to the 2016 race soon. Just this week I tripped over a news
report from South Dakota that began: Senator John Thune, the third-
ranking Republican in his chamber, told a group of second graders that he
does not plan on running for president.

Meanwhile we’ve only got this stupid cliff. What’s the first bad thing
that will happen?

My money’s on the airports. So very, very easy to make life miserable at
airports.

				
DOCUMENT INFO
Description: Don’t worry, Concerned Citizens. With all the gossip these days swirling around budget cuts, I’m prepared to answer all your important questions.