President Barack Obama and bureaucrats on down the federal ladder have the clout to make a 2.4 percent cut from this year’s spending as inconsequential or as painful as they wish. Even if barely half of the sequestered $85 billion was to be spent this year, the administration plainly intends to make Americans feel some hurt. Still, we’d bet the White House bungler who stuck it to sixth-graders from St. Paul’s Lutheran School gets a spanking for the fiasco he or she has caused.
The children, from Waverly in northeast Iowa, were scheduled to visit the White House on March 16. But on Tuesday the visitors office at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. canceled tours as of March 9, citing “staffing reductions resulting from sequestration.” The students retorted with a nine-second Facebook video in which they implore: “The White House is Our House, Please Let Us Visit!” The P.R. fallout for the Obama administration is just as brutal as you’d expect. That didn’t improve Thursday when press secretary Jay Carney reiterated that the kids from St. Paul’s Lutheran are sequester victims — although Carney blamed Secret Service costs, not “staffing reductions.” Hmm.
This is how officials sabotage themselves when they manipulate, exaggerate and flout common sense in foolish efforts to prove fallacious points. Months before the sequester took effect March 1, the administration was squandering its own credibility with over-the-top claims of the misery that a small budget cut would necessitate.
That’s the key word. All of us who have to live within budgets know how to economize if we have to get by on 97.6 percent of our income. The White House wants us to believe that Washington cannot do so. But selling that cowflop has been hard: Fact-checkers at The Washington Post, Politifact and Politico have dealt Team Obama one rollicking embarrassment after another. Among claims largely or wholly debunked:
c Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s assertion “There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips” in Kanawha County, W.Va., because of the sequester? Wrong, Duncan later admitted.
c Obama’s threat that federal prosecutors would “have to close cases and let criminals go”? “Mostly False,” ruled Politifact.
c A White House fact sheet stating that subsidized programs such as Meals on Wheels would serve “4 million fewer meals to seniors”? At best, exaggerated.
c “Up to 70,000 children would lose access” to Head Start programs, as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asserted? Incorrect.
c Our favorite: Officials predicting dreadful airport delays, juxtaposed with TV images of passengers meandering casually through uncrowded airports.
The most brazen fomenting of sequester hysteria came from an arm of the Agriculture Department, which told a federal official in North Carolina that available funds couldn’t be spread across several states to minimize the effect of service cuts. The word from Washington: “We have gone on record with a notification to Congress and whoever else” about the cuts, “So, it is our opinion that however you manage that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be.”
On Tuesday Sen. Tom Coburn asked the White House budget office why, on the first business day after sequestration, the administration posted 606 new federal jobs, seeking recreation aides, painters, librarians, “public affairs specialists,” a museum official for the Air Force (salary: $143,600 to $165,300), and a “social media management service” at the Food and Drug Administration.
You can watch America’s new parlor game — exposing federal hypocrisy and needless spending — on a Twitter clearinghouse, #SequesterThis.
We expect that federal officials who want more spending, and more taxation to support it, will get more efficient than they’ve been to date at scaring and inconveniencing citizens: There may be further talk of furloughs for meat inspectors, fewer hours for air traffic controllers, who knows what all.
But the White House has been put on notice: If you cut something, be able to prove it’s the least essential spending in your budget. Because if it isn’t, your agency will bear the same public humiliation as the ones trying to hire painters during your supposed crisis.
Never forget that we have this sequester because official Washington couldn’t agree on how to make such minimal spending reductions. The administration’s job now: Manage your resources in ways that minimize, not maximize, the sequester’s effects on Americans.