Before December 21, 2012, I didn't have many experiences with Armageddons, outside of movies. The world is always about to end, and the sun, somehow, keeps rising — or so I'd heard. But the Mayans represented the first true test of this theory (aside from the time my Mom was driving my Grandmother and I to Vermont and got lost when I was seven).
Lo and behold, we're still alive. I had no other choice but to begin spending money responsibly, buckle up on the job front and begin showering before noon. Most of this happened.
Last week, Armageddon was supposed to strike again when the sequester — a budgetary measure taken by Congress to force itself to come up with a budget deal because the alternatives were, supposedly, far too drastic to endure — went into place. Here's what President Obama had to say about the effects, per the Washington Times.
At a campaign-style rally with first-responders last week, Obama decried this “meat-cleaver approach,” which he said will “jeopardize our military readiness” and “eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research.” The ability of emergency personnel “to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded,” Obama declared. “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.”
But when I woke up this morning, there was that old sun greeting me. So, what happened? We believed politicians. And that's on us.
I don't know how budgets work in Washington D.C., but the one time I have been involved with budgets in a similar situation at the student radio station — which was funded by student activity fees, aka student taxes — we were strongly encouraged to spend our entire budget. Why? Otherwise, we might not get the same allottment the next time around (We went HAM. New Pro Tools, new mics, new editing equipment. Then, the next board went a different route on editing equipment because they didn't know how to operate the old one. Oh well).
It's not hard to believe Washington works in a similar way, if not worse. Neil Barofsky, who oversaw TARP for two years, appeared on The Daily Show on February 7, 2013 to discuss his book, Bailout (video below). During the interview, Jon Stewart asked Barofsky about the weird, backwards culture in D.C. Barofsky describes the go-along-to-get-along attitude he got from almost everyone he asked for advice.
"What they're really talking about is, the best way to keep your head down and keep your budget coming…"
A 2011 Government Accountability Office report gave a sampling of the vastness of what could be cut, consolidated and rationalized in Washington: 44 overlapping job training programs, 18 for nutrition assistance, 82 (!) on teacher quality, 56 dealing with financial literacy, more than 20 for homelessness, etc. Total annual cost: $100 billion-$200 billion, about two to five times the entire domestic sequester.
Now, the feds will have to figure out what the rest of America has been dealing with: Reality. Their budget has been cut a measly two percent, and they will still spend $15 billion more than one year ago. There are a lot of people going through a lot worse.
Yes, the programs Obama discussed before will be impacted, and, yes, many are predicting catastrophic consequences for the economy. But economists and government officials often see the world as it is and fail to account for invention and creativity. The government will figure out how to operate on a slightly smaller budget — which has been necessary for years — and reassign tax revenues so we don't have to go back to horses and bayonets.
So most of you can relax, watch the sun rise again, tomorrow and ignore the warning from politicians who were really just scared because they might lose their jobs (Note: some of this relaxing may take place at an airport). For that, and for so much else over the past few years, maybe they should.