What’s wrong with this picture? Three months after the sequestration provisions of the 2011 Budget Control Act triggered so-called “across the board” cuts to defense and domestic discretionary spending, Washington’s doing just fine while warfighters at places like Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina can’t train and storm-damaged buildings go unrepaired.
That’s the picture that emerges from a series of Washington Post stories this week about how sequestration is impacting locales that depend on federal funding. A May 29 piece by Jim Tankersley on how the national capital region is faring reported “initial indications are that the damage from the sequester has been modest and slow to develop.” Things might get worse later, Tankersley warned, but for now the impact on jobs and contracts is barely perceptible.
That isn’t what Greg Jaffe found, though, when he visited 9th Air Force Headquarters in South Carolina with local Congressman Mick Mulvaney — a key backer of sequestration, and the first Republican to represent the 5th District since Reconstruction. Jaffe’s May 28 story reported that the two-star general there “had never seen his Air Force less ready for combat,” due to the grounding of planes and deferral of flight training. That’s saying a lot, considering that his career spans 35 years.
Chances are, Representative Mulvaney thought sequestration would hit Washington at least as hard as his home district, but that’s not the way things are turning out. Thousands of his constituents may lose jobs, while people in my neighborhood a few miles from the Pentagon are still tearing down million-dollar houses to put up McMansions costing several times that amount. So even if you discount recent reports that economic growth is suffering as a result of cutbacks in federal spending, it looks like sequestration isn’t unfolding as backers might have hoped. Washington knows how to dodge fiscal bullets, while America’s warfighters are right in the crosshairs.
This is an old story that probably stretches back to the dawn of civilization. The patricians of Rome were the last to feel the pain of any setbacks the empire might suffer because they had the power to extract whatever resources they needed from the provinces. My colleague Dan Goure has a post today noting that the Pentagon’s “back office” of clerical workers and administrative staff has grown by 100,000 people over the last several years while the rest of America was in a recession. Guess where a disproportionate number of those jobs are located? What a surprise — right here in the D.C. area. Now that sequestration has put a cap on federal spending, each one of those bureaucrats represents a lost job for somebody engaged in productive activity at the state and district level.
When Congress gets around to changing the Budget Control Act, as it inevitably will, perhaps legislators like Mr. Mulvaney can put some thought into how Congress might target all that wasteful overhead spending at the Pentagon. There’s no reason why fighter pilots in his district need to be grounded and workers doing real jobs need to be furloughed when Washington is awash in bureaucrats who just add to the cost of getting anything done.
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