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M.D. Harmon: Surprise! Sequestration happened and world did not end

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Wash Mon
News reports told us of an odd and tragic circumstance recently when a man fell into a giant hole that suddenly opened up under his feet.

There has been almost no sign of President Obama since.

His predictions of huge impacts from sequestration’s “cuts” (which actually amounted to a 2.2 percent reduction in the projected increase in federal spending, which has continued to rise) left Americans looking around and saying, “Gee, we’re all still here. Guess the world didn’t end on Friday.”

Of course, the administration is trying hard to show there’s a problem.

However, older memes about a “Washington Monument syndrome” representing how government shuts down the most visible and popular things it does (rather than making real efforts to cut spending when undergoing fiscal duress) may have to give way to a new example.

Now, we can cite the “White House tour syndrome,” because those tours have been canceled due to “a lack of Secret Service agents to provide security” during the free-rambling, self-guided tours.

Will it help that Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have passed legislation that would nail down sequestration’s lower spending amounts through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, while shifting more funds to the Defense Department’s most urgent activities and blocking immigration officials from releasing any more detained illegal immigrants?

Not likely. Such sensible ideas, like so many budget-related bills before them, will probably be shot down in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Although this time, because the government faces a March 31 deadline to extend federal spending authority, Dems who don’t like the GOP bill still have to do something by then.

Beyond that, our absent-from-the-debate president has surrogates saying any long-term budget deal has to boost taxes, so he may have a hard time getting agreement in the House.

And the most recent polls show his popularity dropping (Gallup had him at a 46-46 percent “favorable/unfavorable” tie last week, and this week Rasmussen had his positives at 43 percent. Other polls had him still over 50, but there may be a trend under way). All this may indicate his famous powers of persuasion are diminishing in the aftermath of his failed predictions and the growing impacts of Obamacare.

Meanwhile, let’s examine a few of the claims for sequestration’s impacts and the actual situation:

Head Start: Obama said, “(F)olks who suddenly — might have been working all their lives to get an education, just so that they can get that job and get out of welfare and they’ve got their kid in Head Start, and now, suddenly, that Head Start slot is gone and they’re trying to figure out how am I going to keep my job, because I can’t afford child care for my kid…”

The Department of Health and Human Services said the impact would be severe: “We estimate that approximately 70,000 children will lose access to Head Start services because of this reduction.”

The actual impact, The Weekly Standard reported this week, was that the 5 percent cut the sequester imposed in the Head Start budget was almost exactly equivalent to its increase in spending for the fiscal year, and when the year started, only 3,000 new students were added.
If they were all the new spending covered, how could its loss reach 22 times that number?

Federal hiring: The Washington Times reported Monday that “on the first day back,” the Federal Register announced vacancies for 400 jobs and applications were being sought to fill them. The positions included interns and drivers for State Department limos, among more prestigious jobs.

As the paper said, “At a time when nearly all of those agencies are contemplating furloughs, the help-wanted ads raised questions about how agencies should decide between saving through attrition or letting people go. ‘Every position you don’t fill that isn’t absolutely necessary is one less person that needs to be furloughed,’ said Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense — though he said some positions that people leave need to be filled in order to meet agencies’ core missions.

The paper added, “Part of the problem is it’s often unclear exactly what those core missions are,” said Paul C. Light, a professor at New York University who has studied government organization extensively.

‘When you say mission critical, it’s a phrase without meaning,’ he said. ‘Everything’s mission critical. Therefore, we have no way of knowing what would be mission critical in a job description versus what is not.’ He said agencies become ‘very artful’ in writing job descriptions to justify why they are hiring.”

Minorities and women: In a near-perfect real-world copy of the apocryphal New York Times parody headline, “World to end: Blacks and women hardest hit,” the Hill, an online newspaper that covers doings at the Capitol, ran a story Monday with the headline, “Dems say sequester will hurt blacks, women more than others.”

The story said, “‘Sequestration will impact everyone, but it will have a particularly harmful effect on communities of color who were hit first and worst by the great recession, and have yet to significantly feel the effects of the recovery,’ Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said Monday. ‘Federal budget cuts under sequestration would quickly mean cuts to federal, state and local public-sector jobs, which disproportionately employ women and African-Americans.'”

Phony teachers and real criminals: The American Spectator’s Jed Babbin reported Monday that “Education Secretary Arne Duncan earned four “Pinocchios” from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker column for brazenly lying about teachers he said were already being laid off in West Virginia.

“Duncan, for all his faults, is relatively harmless. The same cannot be said about Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose department has begun releasing criminal illegal aliens —which for this discussion is not redundant — from the jails where they were being held pending deportation.”

Babbin says these immigrants came from a group of 34,000 being detained either because they had committed serious crimes in this country or because they were found to have lengthy criminal records in their home countries.

He found an Arizona sheriff, Paul Babeu of Pinal County, who said he had no idea how to find the 2,000-plus inmates let go by the feds.

“Babeu told me that neither he nor the county’s police chiefs were notice of the release. ‘The doors swung open and there they go,’ he said.

“I asked Babeu if he even knew who these people were. He said that he’s asked for that information numerous times, including by letter, and ICE has refused to tell him. ‘These people were released into the community. We don’t know their names, we don’t know what charges they were held on or their criminal history.’

“He added, ‘But we do know this: This is the same group that Janet Napolitano and Barack Obama have all agreed that these are the worst of the illegals.’

And while DHS could not afford to keep 2,000 criminals in custody, it can afford, as Investor’s Business Daily reported Tuesday, to acquire 2,717 renovated former military armored vehicles known as MRAPs — Mine Resistant Ambush Protected wheeled carriers — that were manufactured specifically for combat.

There’s more: including $50 million DHS just spent on TSA uniforms, said to be more per person than the Marine Corps spends — but let this put the icing on the cake:

National Review Online and the Washington Times both reported Tuesday that a federal official asking if he had discretion to minimize the impact of his agency’s reduced funded was officially told he couldn’t, because the administration had said they would be bad, and that prediction had to come true no matter what.

In an article titled, “White House tells agencies to bring the pain,” NRO’s Andrew Stiles reported, “The Obama administration is urging federal officials not to exercise maximum flexibility in implementing automatic spending reductions in order to validate White House talking points, according to an email sent Monday.

“In the message, Charles Brown, a regional director of the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), recalls asking senior administration officials ‘if there was any latitude in how the sequestration cuts . . . could be managed’ in order to minimize their impact on federal fish inspections.”

The answer, Stiles said, was no. He wrote, “Brown said officials in Washington advised him against trying to lessen the impact of the cuts because the White House had already ‘gone on record’ indicating how severe they thought the effects of sequestration would be on the wildlife industry, so managers should therefore ensure that the cuts are as advertised.

In the email, Brown wrote: “The response back was, ‘We have gone on record with a notification to Congress and whoever else that “APHIS would eliminate assistance to producers in 24 States in managing wildlife damage to the aquaculture industry, unless they provide funding to cover the costs.” 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.’”

What good will “bringing the pain” do? The only possible answer is that it will provide a political talking point for the party in power that might not have been possible if that same party had adopted a less harsh view of how to implement the sequester.

If anyone was wondering why Obama said he would veto the Republican proposal to give him greater discretion over that implementation — discretion many experts said he already had — this may provide an explanation.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: mdharmoncol@yahoo.com

About M.D. Harmon

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: mdharmoncol@yahoo.com

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