I previously relayed the grand joke that was “sequestration”—the political show in which increased spending was presented persuasively as “draconian cuts” in the way that Al Gore told An Inconvenient Truth with a straight face. One almost gets the sense that those people really believe themselves.
Of course, people are thoroughly wowed and amazed when the magic trick is performed, only to feel totally dumb for it when they learn how it was pulled off—crude boxes, levers, screens, and dummies, and not even requiring the aid of the proverbial smoke and mirrors.
In the latest episode of Politics’ Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, we learn just how ridiculous the sequestration threats really were. One of the grand threats made throughout the process was that federal agencies across the board would be squeezed so tightly they would have to—gasp—put government workers on furlough. While some of us were screaming, “Please, Please! Saw that lady in half!,” most politicians and their beautiful assistants in the media were playing up the fear.
But now we learn the fear was not only overblown, it was a calculated charade used just to get us in the door and get our money.
First, the facts. GovExec.com reports on the furloughs that never happened:
The earliest examples came from departments that told Congress they would have to furlough employees, but ended up backtracking. The Education and Justice departments fall into this category. The Agriculture, Transportation and Homeland Security departments all received authority to transfer funds between agency accounts, and were therefore able to cancel planned furloughs. The Commerce Department projected furloughs at its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, only to cancel them in May.
The most significant example of furlough reductions has been the Defense Department. The Pentagon originally planned to furlough all 750,000 of its civilian employees for 22 days. It then used reprogramming to trim that number to 11 days, and more recently – through a series of cost-cutting measures and inter-service transfer of funds — reduced the days of unpaid leave to six. The furloughs are now estimated to affect about 650,000 Defense civilians.
Several agencies have relied on “internal reviews” of their financial conditions, during which they discovered cost-cutting measures had made their situations less dire than originally anticipated. This, in turn, allowed them to cut required furlough days.
The Treasury Department, for example, originally said it would furlough all 90,000 of its Internal Revenue Service employees five days, but has since cut the number of days to three.
The Housing and Urban Development Department also recently canceled two furlough days.
In May, the Environmental Protection Agency cut furloughs by three days.
The Interior Department warned of 12-14 furlough days for the U.S. Park Police, but ultimately ended the furloughs after employees had taken less than half of the expected total. . . .
The Health and Human Services Department repeatedly said it was continuing to “evaluate the situation” and “had not made any specific decisions” about implementing furloughs, but has not required its employees to take unpaid leave.
Apart from the initial shock of, “Holy cow! Why does the federal government have so many departments and employees to begin with?!,” the reader is immediately educated as to what a sham this little political trick was.
It seems like the Administration and Congress colluded to put that bulging budget in a box and saw it right in half before our very eyes—and voila!—here we are with the lady perfectly intact, smiling, and just as long-legged and curvy as ever right before our very eyes.
Gasp! How did they do it?
Jacqueline Simon, the public policy director for the government employees union American Federation of Government Employees, tells the secret:
“We showed the agencies there were numerous alternatives to dealing with sequestration. . . . It was across the board and our union responded in every one of these situations.”
Simon added the bloated estimates were a “political calculation,” with federal employees dangled as sacrificial lambs to demonstrate to Congress the potential fallout from sequestration.
“The administration wrongfully assumed Congress would act,” Simon said. “Congress didn’t act. They didn’t care.”
Heck, even a Senator was willing to tattle, but only because it was a rival magician’s act:
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., ranking member of the committee that oversees the federal workforce, agreed with the notion that the White House was politically motivated in its early warnings.
“The administration previewed a parade of horribles that hasn’t happened,” said Coburn spokesman John Hart. “We’ve also seen that where there is flexibility there is fat. In other words, [agencies’] ability to be flexible demonstrates that there is plenty of waste and fat in the budget that can be cut before cutting vital services or furloughing employees.”
And yet the hand you weren’t watching is still printing, borrowing, spending, into record deficits and debts. Yes, there’s fat, and we’ve been told there are cuts, yet the fat keeps growing anyway. It’s a total charade, and total sleight of hand.
Of course, all analogies can be carried too far. The budget debates aren’t really, completely like a magic show. So what’s the difference? People willingly pay to watch Penn and Teller.
[by Dr. Joel McDurmon, writing for The American Vision]