It was one of the pivotal moments of the campaign. In a leaked video from a private fundraiser presidential candidate Mitt Romney describes many Americans as having become “dependent on government.” Romney was the first to admit that his point was “inelegantly stated,” but nevertheless Obama seized on the remarks. Obama argued that government spending was not about fostering dependence, but simply a means of to give a little jolt to the sagging American Dream.
And yet here we are, not four months later and President Obama is making the prima facie case for just how dependent the United States has become on the federal government. To understand how look no further than his apocalyptic rhetoric on the consequences of the sequester – a package of cuts that were his idea to put pressure on the Deficit Super Committee to come up with a grand bargain.
As we all know the Committee failed in their charge, resulting in a sequester mechanism that will cut the budget authority by $85 billion next year, which will reduce spending by around $42 billion. Is that a lot of money? Objectively, yes. But in the grand scheme of a $3.6 trillion budget it’s not the doomsday scenario it’s being made out to be. And lest you fall into the trap of thinking this is a “cut” as you and I define the word – it’s not. Indeed, regardless of whether the sequester takes effect the federal government will be spending more than they did last year.
In recent remarks Obama said this “meat-cleaver” approach will “jeopardize our military readiness; it will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research.” He also mentions that emergency responders won’t be able to help communities respond to disaster, federal prosecutors will have to let criminals go, flights will be delayed, and people won’t be able to get cancer screenings.
It’s enough to make you wonder how on earth we ever survived way back in 2001 when the budget was half what it was today! And it makes you question how we’ll possible trudge on with $1.2 trillion in cuts over ten years – when the government is projected to spend more than $44 trillion over the same period.
But perhaps most crucially, at least in the long-term, it should also make you wonder how President Obama can simultaneously argue that we absolutely can’t make these modest cuts without an utter disaster happening and yet believe that he’s not creating a society that is dependent on government. As Sheldon Richman writes for Reason:
“President Obama and other so-called progressives insist that the American people are not overly dependent on government. They also predict dire consequences if the automatic budget “cuts” known as sequestration take place March 1.
Both claims cannot be true. If modest across-the-board “cuts” – mainly in the rate of growth – in military and domestic spending pose a threat to the American people and the U.S. economy, then the country is alarmingly dependent on government.”
Obama has been able to have it both ways for so long. On the one hand he’s been able to claim that government must perpetually grow lest tragedy strike. As George Will writes for the Washington Post, “The sequester has forced liberals to clarify their conviction that whatever the government’s size is at any moment, it is the bare minimum necessary to forestall intolerable suffering.”
And on the other hand he’s been able to strike down any Republican attempts to highlight the worrisome trend toward dependency. He’ll turn your words against you and claim that you’re not being sensitive to the hard-working Americans who are just looking for a “hand-up” not a “hand out.”
No more! Republicans have rightfully claimed that there are better, smarter, more targeted ways to enact the cuts called for by the sequester. But it makes no sense to give in to Obama’s manufactured crisis du jour. The government is growing out of control. That much is undebatable. If the sequester is our one, small opportunity to trim it down to size then we must stand firm.