J. KARL MILLER: The sequester — cause for panic or an orchestrated hoax?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 | 5:39 p.m. CST

The sequester is coming, the sky is falling, air travel will become unsafe, public safety first responders will be cut, teachers will be laid off, national defense will be disrupted and children's lunch programs will be cut!

In short, as stated by the late cartoonist Walt Kelly's Pogo Possum, "We have met the enemy and it is us" is the administration's dire warning.

Admittedly, the sequester, or Budget Control Act of 2011, was, and remains, a bad idea, conceived in haste and doomed to failure from day one, as neither side would budge one iota. Yes, it was the president's idea; however, no one is blameless inasmuch as both houses of Congress passed it — an act doomed to fail —and kicked the can down the road.

In a nutshell, this act provided for a "supercommittee of Democrats and Republicans to achieve agreement — if accord was not realized, automatic cuts would be levied with the Department of Defense absorbing half the shortfall. If enacted, the administration's message is that these cuts will be draconian and cause irreparable damage to the economy.

Let us take a look at the numbers rather than the rhetoric. The sequester cuts scheduled to kick in are in the neighborhood of $85 billion. To most, $85 billion is unfathomable, but when one realizes that the national budget is $3.6 trillion, sequestration amounts to about a 2.5 percent cut in government spending or, just a little more than two cents on the dollar.

Also, when the public takes into consideration that Congress just voted a $60 billion plus two-part Hurricane Sandy relief appropriation, one has to wonder about the legitimacy of the fuss over the sequester. Although under the Budget Control Act, the president has little ability to spare one type of spending and cut more from another, Congress has the power to legislate flexibility to map out a fallback position.

Therein lies the barrier. Rather than negotiating in good faith with the congressional leadership as did presidents Reagan, Clinton and both presidents Bush, President Barack Obama has issued warnings of economic calamity, diminished military readiness and chaos emerging from every nook and cranny. Naturally, the Republicans are to blame.

The Republican House of Representatives has passed and sent forward two separate bills outlining a less painful method of cutting spending. However, the president is adamant that any alteration must include additional taxes on the wealthy and, as has been the rule, the Senate has refused to take up the Republican position.

There is absolutely no reason to continue this political morass. Mr. President, everyone realizes that you twice won the majority of the popular vote — a goal achieved only by Democrats Franklin Roosevelt and yourself in the memory of any living person. You also humbled the Republicans by relentlessly pursuing and obtaining a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans. Let's face it, you won and won big.

Mr. President, it should be obvious that the economy remains anemic, unemployment remains high, government is extremely unpopular and the public is hungry for leadership. Even some of your most ardent supporters agree that the penchant for assigning blame is getting old — that it is time for you to "lead from the front."

Accordingly, at this juncture, a leader could afford to be magnanimous and table for now that which is holding up progress — the demand for additional taxes on the wealthy. There is a need for additional revenue, but more people employed and paying taxes is far more lucrative than taxing and re-taxing the same people.

And, by the way, Mr. President, you are the commander in chief and, as such, ultimately responsible for national security. Your secretary of defense warned the deep defense cuts triggered by sequestration will prompt “the most significant readiness crisis in more than a decade.”

A leader can delegate authority but not responsibility — you, sir, are responsible.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Michael Williams February 27, 2013 | 10:57 p.m.

Wow, this Woodward vs. White House thingie is really heating up! Now, Woodward says a senior WH official warned him that he would regret what he was doing.


So far, the Missourian remains silent at the same time it asks readers for stories it would like to see.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking February 28, 2013 | 4:20 a.m.

Saying a 2.5% cut in spending is "devastating" tells me that not doing it will simply make any cuts more and more devastating in the future. The only way to meaningfully reduce the deficit is by cutting spending AND raising revenue. The numbers don't add up otherwise. Not even close.

We've enjoyed the unearned prosperity of a $16 trillion line of credit which we can keep for the (minimal) interest alone, since President "Kick-the-Can-Down-the-Road" Reagan. We've borrowed for the future to live better in the present for 40+ years. Without both spending cuts and additional taxes, we'll continue to do so. The numbers don't work any other way.

Do we care? Doesn't sound like anyone really does.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 28, 2013 | 6:57 a.m.

Next the executive branch will resurect Dr. Josef Goebbels and enlarge the cabinet to include Secretary of Propaganda.

While that's being accomplished, O'Bummer needs to give his suits to charity and don a toga. Will he also play the violin?

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 28, 2013 | 7:36 a.m.

"Next the executive branch will resurect Dr. Josef Goebbels and enlarge the cabinet to include Secretary of Propaganda."

Mark Foecking would be a good hire, to head that post.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking February 28, 2013 | 7:57 a.m.

frank christian wrote:

"Mark Foecking would be a good hire, to head that post."

At least, for me, 1 and 1 equals 2. $85 billion out of a 3.6 trillion dollar budget is insignificant. It doesn't matter if it happens or not. It won't reduce our readiness. It will not cause economic calamity. It will not cause chaos. It also won't reduce the deficit meaningfully. The only way to do that is a drastic, painful overhaul of spending and taxes, and of course no one is talking about that.

Just let it happen. Get it over with. I have feeling we won't be able to tell the difference in a year's time. But we'll also have an $800+ billion dollar deficit in that time.

If anything, it shows the pathetic inability of anyone in government (and the American people that put them there) to face up to our budget problems. They might as well not even try if this is the best they can come up with. Just keep borrowing until we can't anymore, because it's just too painful to cut up the credit card.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 28, 2013 | 8:32 a.m.

I must side with Mark - his first post - in that this mess has been building under several sucessive administrations. I would also agree that this "climactic" situation may not indeed BE the climax.

The federal government and the national debt will continue to grow.

The Communists [no, this time it's the Republicans and maybe a few Democrats] have burned down the Reichstag [no, here it's called the Capitol], so we will exercise executive privilege. Ridiculous? Yes but no more ridiculous than...

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 28, 2013 | 8:38 a.m.

Mark F. - Your lament always skips around the core problem in our government - liberal Democrats! Given more money they have, every time, spent it, given it away and stolen it (not necessarily in that order).

You always give us "we" as source of our problems as the people and an occasional Republican President, but always ignore the Democrat controlled Congress's, which have controlled our government since FDR, except for 1995 and after, when controlling Republicans did exactly what you preach can never be done. They balanced the budget, reformed welfare, etc., etc.

Can you admit what this "sequestration" is all about? It is the effort by this D' prez, to quash the R' effort to stop his insane (better word, criminal) spending! The opposite of: "If anything, it shows the pathetic inability of anyone in government (and the American people that put them there) to face up to our budget problems."

Imo, to ignore the Republican history in your dissertations is propaganda. You do it often and do it well. Sorry.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote February 28, 2013 | 10:43 a.m.

Here is the President's alternative to the sequester:
Deficit reduction = approximately $1.5 trillion. This is quite a bit more than the roughly $250 billion over 10 years that the the two house bills Mr Miller alluded to reduce the deficit. (Scored by the CBO:
If one were interested in reducing the deficit, it is pretty clear which plan is more effective. That the House will not pass the $1.5 trillion deficit reduction says a lot about who is and is not interested in reducing the deficit. Note that tax rates are unchanged in the President's proposal. Perhaps Mr. Miller can explain why the President's current plan, which is well to the right of Bowles Simpson, displays a lack of leadership/initiative. (Bowles-Simpson called for $2 trillion in additional revenue, while Mr. Obama's plan entails $680 billion). Admittedly, the President's plan does not cut spending as much as Simpson-Bowles, but it cuts far more than the Republican H.R. 5652 Sequester Replacement Act of 2012. Note Mr. Miller has previously criticized the President for not endorsing Simpson-Bowles.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller February 28, 2013 | 11:21 a.m.

Mr Foote,

As is his wont, the President's deficit reduction "plan" is purposely vague, loaded with "could be's" and lacking in specifics. Additionally, he assiduously avoids any mention of trimming entitlement spending whatsoever. In fact, at almost every turn, he is directing that the well off pay more.

This hastily concocted and virtuously useless "solution" is hardly my idea of leadership--who do you think will pull the wagon when everyone gets aboard? As Mrs Thatcher said "The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."
As to my alleged criticism of the President for not endorsing Simpson-Bowles, that is not accurate. I criticized the President for commissioning Simpson-Bowles and then ignoring its recommendations.

Dealing with this President is reminiscent of Lucy yanking the football away when Charlie Brown attempts to kick it..his penchant for moving the goal posts may excite his base but, what is the sum total of his effect on the economy?

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield February 28, 2013 | 12:02 p.m.

The CBO bases its estimates on whatever Congress tells it to believe. If Congress says that the sun will rise in the west tomorrow, the CBO must take that at face value.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote February 28, 2013 | 12:09 p.m.

@Mr. Miller,

So you favor the $250 billion reduction plan, though it does not address entitlements, but are opposed to the $1.5 trillion reduction plan because it does not address entitlements? That is a curious logic.

Moreover, it is misinformed. Obama's proposal includes adopting the chained CPI for determining Social Security benefits. Deficit reduction = $130 billion over 10 years. Note that is more than half of the total reductions from the Republican plan and most definitely involves substantial cuts to an entitlement program.

As to vagueness, he has stipulated specific areas of spending cuts, for example: cutting military discretionary spending by $100 billion, $400 billion in provider payment cuts to government health care programs, $30 billion in cuts to farm subsidies, and has $100 billion worth of extra ideas for cutting non-health non-Social Security mandatory spending, etc...

It would seem to me that it is congress's job to determine exactly how to enact those specific cuts within the respective departments. They are after all the legislative branch of government.

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 28, 2013 | 12:25 p.m.

Obama's goal is to blackmail House Republicans into giving him more tax money to spend, with the threat of sequester causing disaster to every man, woman and child in America as he is forcasting back and forth across our country. Some say those Americans are becoming tired of the crap.

This missive is far shorter,but more accurate than that of Mr. Foote. The CBO was created by Democrats in 1974, passed by Democrats over the veto of R. Nixon.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman February 28, 2013 | 5:52 p.m.

Karl - Good column, but a small correction - Dwight D. Eisenhower was also elected twice with majority votes.

Mark - Yes, 2.5 percent my sound insignificant but it is not. The rate varies among departments. The US military budget will see as much as a 17 percent reduction. This is not a game of averages, but of specifics and if one reads the original (as I have), the devil is in the details. Simplicity is a wonderful way of making the numbers work for you, but they are not based on reality. It is called the "Rule of the Ridiculous" for a reason.

Ellis - I am deeply disappointed in your reference of Nazi propagandist Dr. Josef Goebbels and connecting it with any administration, Democratic or Republican. You, sir, are my proof that when the opposition has nothing to say, they revert to insult, a change of subject, begging the question, and slippery slope arguments. Thank you.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 1, 2013 | 5:39 a.m.

You appear to find my posts bothersome; they are intended to be.

"If you can't stand the heat, it's time to get out of the kitchen." - Harry S. Truman

PS: That said, some time ago some of our posters suggested that the Missourian remove your column; I posted then that the Missourian should definitely retain it. I haven't changed my mind, nor am I going to change my opinions.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller March 2, 2013 | 7:51 p.m.


Thanks for the compliment but, the last time I looked, IKE was a Republican. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan also won the majority of the popular vote. Perhaps I could have worded it better.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller March 2, 2013 | 8:12 p.m.

Mr Foote.

Apparently you did not read my criticism closely enough. I pointed out, in addition to the lack of entitlement cuts offered,that Mr Obama's recommended cuts were vague and non specific--each prefaced by "could be's." We have been down this road with this President before--his predilection with moving the goal posts is well documented.

By the way, President Obama has always claimed that entitlements are on the table--just where might that table be located.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.