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Please sequester our penchant for stupidity

Gary Caruso | Friday, March 1, 2013

The $85 billion of automatic, massive and indiscriminate budgetary cuts across the federal government, our so-called “sequestration” of funding, triggered at midnight and is scheduled to continue through September. Designed as a draconian meat cleaver way to force congressional Democrats and Republicans to agree on solutions reducing the deficit, the measure was sadly not too extreme to fail. The congressional lawmakers’ impasse leaves many to wonder why.
Warnings have abounded since sequestration’s inception in 2011. Republicans, ever eager to oppose Obama ideas, blame the president for devising the sequestration scheme. Yet House GOP members – still living in their fantasy world that collapsed on Mitt Romney last November – wrongly believe that although they personally passed sequestration, the consequences fall on the president for thinking of the idea. GOP intransigence relies on a denial of complicity: “Don’t blame me. I did not rob the bank. I only drove the getaway car.”
Months ago, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that sequestration would cost the overall economy 750,000 jobs within a year. Testifying on Tuesday before a congressional committee, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (an appointee of former president, George W. Bush) urged lawmakers to avoid sharp spending cuts, which he warned could create a “significant headwind” against our economic recovery. The Pentagon notified 800,000 workers last week to expect furloughs – both contractors and government staff – effectively reducing their salaries for six months by 20 percent starting today. So why does such seemingly tone deafness echo on Capitol Hill?
Simply put, in their fictional GOP world, most representatives from safely gerrymandered Republican districts oppose President Obama as sport. Their political games are void of fiscal or historical fact, oftentimes riddled with simple slogans and well-worn lies. They rely on such popular untruths as Newt Gingrich’s “economic fact” coined in the 1990s alleging taxing the rich reduces job growth. They support their mindless chatter through their American idol, Ronald Reagan, using mere legend rather than a study in historical governance.
Their fantasyville tales become absurdly opposite and devoid of the facts. Historically, Reagan raised taxes nearly a dozen times – two collectively were the largest in history at the time – on Social Security and gasoline while closing tax shelters and other loopholes to reduce the deficit, at the time averaging 18.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Reagan’s public debt tripled from $712 billion in 1980 to $2.052 trillion in 1988, jumping from 26 to 41 percent of GDP. Ironically, Obama haters hate to acknowledge Obama outperforming Reagan on public debt. The CBO reports this year’s deficit will be $641 billion, down $500 billion from last year’s nearly $1.2 trillion level. The CBO further shows federal spending in 2009 when Obama entered office was 25.2 percent of GDP. It shrunk to 22.8 percent last year and is projected to fall to 21.5 percent at the end of Obama’s term in 2017.
 Notwithstanding experts, non-partisan forecasts or current, concrete examples of the double-dip recessions suffered by European nations that have adopted extreme austerity measures, the GOP considers deficit reduction only through the prism of spending cuts. House Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans are fixated solely on reducing the debt through governmental cuts rather than fixing the economy based on proven historical principles. Keynesian economics, for example, recognizes active government intervention in the marketplace and monetary policy as the best method to support employment, ensure economic growth and create stability, especially during recessionary downturns. When the House GOP disregards established principles for their slogans, they are like the ship, Californian, watching the distress flares of the Titanic without understanding or initiating any timely actions.
The GOP salivates at any opportunity to initiate their long-time obsession of decimating governmental functions. They refuse to acknowledge that under President Obama’s watch, federal taxes sunk to their lowest levels since the 1950s. The federal deficit also steadily decreased to currently four percent of GDP, about the level when Reagan left office after Reagan’s peak of six percent in 1983.
So it begs the question, “At what point do we label our elected officials stupid for ignoring basic historical economic principles stripped of rhetorical spin?” Obviously mere historical facts will not convince them. They do not study how our Civil War or either World War national debts were paid down. They could care less that Republicans cut some World War II taxes yet reduced the debt by a third through other taxes or that we survived our all-time World War II high of 113 percent of GDP debt through economic expansion, not with increased taxes. In fact, by 1962, just 17 years after the war, WWII debt had been reduced back to the pre-war 1934 level.
The only way to educate the GOP is through cruel, calculated and coldhearted cuts in their own backyards – the opposite of Keynesian economics can offer another shocking punch like last November’s election eve. The president should surgically exact massive federal cuts in gerrymandered Republican districts to force GOP members out of their current stupor.
Speaker Boehner last Monday announced, “Well, Mr. President, you got your tax increase. It’s time to cut spending here in Washington.”
 The president should answer, “Fine, we’ll begin in your district.”

Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. Contact him at GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.