The $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts set to go into effect on Friday -- assuming Congress doesn't reach an alternative deficit reduction deal -- was designed to be so stupid and indiscriminately painful that any rational human being would do whatever possible to avoid it.
But rationality is not Congress' strong suit, which is why the U.S. government is about to speed off this particular cliff without even tapping the brakes. Instead, discussions have devolved into a partisan blame game that has all the maturity of a middle-school brawl with none of the entrainment value.
In a last-minute attempt to force a compromise, the White House released a state-by-state breakdown of the sequester's impact. In Texas, the cuts would fall most heavily on the military ($275 million in cuts to Army installations) and education ($119 million less for public schools and special education), though seniors, the poor, environmental initiatives would also suffer.
But with the deadline fast approaching and no deal on the horizon, Texas Republicans are promulgating a new message: The cuts really aren't that bad..
U.S. Senator John Cornyn told Fox News that Obama is using the sequester as a way "to scare people in order to grow the size of government."
He elaborated yesterday on Facebook:
Even after the sequester, the federal government will spend $15 billion more than it did last year, and 30% more than it spent in 2007. Government spending on nondefense discretionary programs will be 19.2% higher and spending on defense will be 13.8% higher than it was in 2007.
The always colorful Steve Stockman, a House member from the Houston area, has penned an ongoing Twitter jeremiad downplaying Obama's sequester threats as a scare tactic.
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"Once it passes and the next day the sun comes up and people still have water and they still have children, it's going to be an interesting take," he told the National Review.
The Republicans' rationale for dismissing the sequester threat is effectively summed up in an op-ed by Brooke Rollins, who heads the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin:
Texas' portion of the cuts looks impressive: some $334 million--until one considers that Texas is due to spend $92.5 billion in the fiscal year ending August 31, 2013. This means that sequestration threatens to reduce Texas' budget by 0.36 percent--about one-third of one percent.
In addition, the Department of Defense would see cuts of about $275 million in Texas, furloughing 52,000 workers for a total reduction of about $5,300 per worker.
As a portion of Texas' $1.33 trillion economy, the $334 million of threatened cuts in federal state government funding and $275 million in defense expenditures amounts to 0.046 percent, or less than five-hundredths of one percent of the economy.
Such sentiments aren't limited to Texas, either. There's a sizable contingent of elected officials in Washington who think that sequestration will be neutral, even good, which doesn't bode well for a last-second compromise.