Daniel J. Mitchell

Notwithstanding hysterical rhetoric from the White House, the bureaucracies, and the various pro-spending lobbies in Washington, the sequester does not mean “vicious” or “draconian” spending cuts.

I wish that was the case.

All it does is restrain spending so that it grows by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years rather than $2.5 trillion. We need a much greater degree of fiscal discipline to address the long-term spending crisis – including some real entitlement reform.

But the sequester is certainly better than doing nothing.

My concern, though, is that feckless and incompetent Republicans will fumble away victory. I explain in this Larry Kudlow interview that “doing nothing” is the right approach since the sequester happens automatically, but I’m worried that this very modest step in the right direction will be eroded as part of subsequent spending bills.

On a related note, Byron York of the Washington Examiner is rather perplexed by the GOP’s sequester strategy, which is based on the inconsistent message that it should happen, but that it’s bad.

Boehner calls the cuts “deep,” when most conservatives emphasize that for the next year they amount to about $85 billion out of a $3,600 billion budget.  Which leads to another question: Why would Boehner adopt the Democratic description of the cuts as “deep” when they would touch such a relatively small part of federal spending? The effect of Boehner’s argument is to make Obama seem reasonable in comparison. After all, the president certainly agrees with Boehner that the sequester cuts threaten national security and jobs.  The difference is that Obama wants to avoid them.  At the same time, Boehner is contributing to Republican confusion on the question of whether the cuts are in fact “deep” or whether they are relatively minor. Could the GOP message on the sequester be any more self-defeating?

My two cents is that fiscal conservatives should argue that sequestration isn’t the ideal way to trim the burden of government spending, but that it’s the only option since President Obama is refusing to look at any alternatives unless they are based on class-warfare tax hikes and phony entitlement gimmicks.

What really matters, though, is in the driver’s seat in this battle. They can win…but only if they want to.

Every so often, I issue imperious edicts about things that Republicans should do to demonstrate that they genuinely support limited government.

  1. No tax increases, since more money for Washington will encourage a bigger burden of government and undermine prosperity.
  2. To stop bailouts for Europe’s decrepit welfare states, no more money for the International Monetary Fund.
  3. Reform the biased number-crunching methodology at the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation.
  4. No more money from American taxpayers to subsidize the left-wing bureaucrats at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  5. Defund the crony capitalists at the Export-Import Bank.

I’m not naive enough to think that GOPers actually care about my demands, but I certainly think the sequester is a “gut-check” moment for Republicans.

If they capitulate to Obama in the short run, or if they wipe out the sequester savings as part of subsequent spending bills, that will be a very dismal sign that the folks who came to DC thinking it was a cesspool have instead decided that it’s really a hot tub.


Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute.