During the summer 2011 debt ceiling battle, President Obama's White House came up with the idea of sequestration. It is a mechanism designed to trigger automatic spending cuts in the event that a congressional "super committee" couldn't agree to at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.
Congress passed the White House proposal, and Obama signed it into law. And in November 2011, Obama vowed, "I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy offramps on this one."
How times have changed. With the automatic spending cuts scheduled to go into effect March 1, it's now Obama who is imploring Congress to undo them. As is his wont, he's resorting to demagoguery to make his case.
Surrounding himself with first responders during a speech on Tuesday, Obama predicted a virtual apocalypse if the cuts he once supported now go into effect. "Emergency responders like the ones who are here today -- their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded," he said. "Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced. FBI agents will be furloughed. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country. Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings."
In the real world, however, the sequester cuts are actually modest when viewed relative to the budget as a whole. As the accompanying graph demonstrates, the $85 billion in combined cuts to defense and nondefense programs amount to just about 1 percent of money spent by federal, state and local governments. Over a decade, the $1.2 trillion in scheduled cuts are barely more than a rounding error when compared with the $48 trillion the federal government would otherwise spend, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
To say the sequester will not be painful for many would be untrue. But if Obama wants to preserve his credibility, he should probably stifle the Chicken Little routine. The historical and continued growth in government spending will not even stop to take a breath, because the "cuts" in spending are actually just reductions in the projected growth of government spending.
Even with the sequester's $84 billion in cuts this year, government spending will be higher than it was last year. In fact, spending is projected to increase every year over the next decade.
If Obama can't manage an ever-growing budget like this one without turning criminals loose on the population, then perhaps he's out of his league serving as president.