In the nine weeks since modest cuts to federal spending growth kicked in, we’ve waited for the parade of horribles that President Barack Obama and his subordinates predicted. What we’ve instead witnessed, to our surprise and probably theirs, is members of Congress and other government officials finally doing their jobs.
Yes, there was that bad gambit by the administration to furlough air traffic controllers and provoke Americans to warble, “End the sequester!” Many of those Americans instead vented their anger on congressional Democrats — they of the party that owns the executive branch and thus has to make things work. After less than a week, the White House beat feet. Conservatives, having shown the supposed necessity of furloughs to be a falsehood, were jubilant. Liberals, having lost the gambit and failed to halt the sequester cuts to most other domestic spending growth, were apoplectic.
But look at how capably this sausage got made. Lawmakers crafted, and Obama codified in law, flexibility in how the U.S. Department of Transportation allocates its resources to provide vital services: Congress enabled a shift of $253 million from airport construction to controllers’ salaries. Crisis resolved.
Americans have watched similar adaptations over these nine weeks, and we hope they see many more. In agency after agency, officials have juggled priorities, reduced travel, sidelined contractors, dropped inconsequential initiatives — all sorts of economizing they haven’t done in the past because nobody made them do so.
The meat products that wouldn’t be federally inspected, the federal prisons with not enough guards, the criminals who wouldn’t face justice for lack of federal prosecutors — ably and sometimes reluctantly, the feds have averted threatened consequences of the sequester.
This is the slippery slope, with boiling caldrons of oil at the bottom, that defenders of ever-rising spending always have feared: As Americans see officials making choices, lopping needless expenses and living within limits just as families and private-sector employers have to do, the confident claim that spending (and debt) simply can’t be sliced stands exposed as a fraud.
Here’s where many Democrats retort, fiercely, that cuts to poverty and other people programs are causing harm to constituencies that don’t have the clout that business-class fliers exerted.
So let’s stipulate for the sake of discussion that some domestic programs do deserve higher spending. No problem!
Congress and the president merely need to keep making the choices they’re learning to make: If we want more for X, we’ll take it from Y. Because if Z equals more of the unchecked spending and debt that got us where we are, there … is … no … Z.