As we confront the specter of sequestration it’s worth a few minutes of your time to read this Washington Post article on the effects of the April 2011 spending cuts. A sample.
Nearly two years later, however, these landmark budget cuts have fallen far short of their promises.
In some areas, they did bring significant cutbacks in federal spending. Grants for clean water dried up. Cities got less money for affordable housing.
But the bill also turned out to be an epic kind of Washington illusion. It was stuffed with gimmicks that made the cuts seem far bigger — and the politicians far bolder — than they actually were.
In the real world, in fact, many of their “cuts” cut nothing at all. The Transportation Department got credit for “cutting” a $280 million tunnel that had been canceled six months earlier. It also “cut” a $375,000 road project that had been created by a legislative typo, on a road that did not exist.
At the Census Bureau, officials got credit for a whopping $6 billion cut, simply for obeying the calendar. They promised not to hold the expensive 2010 census again in 2011.
Today, an examination of 12 of the largest cuts shows that, thanks in part to these gimmicks, federal agencies absorbed $23 billion in reductions without losing a single employee.
“Many of the cuts we put in were smoke and mirrors,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a hard-line conservative now in his second term. “That’s the lesson from April 2011: that when Washington says it cuts spending, it doesn’t mean the same thing that normal people mean.”
Maybe we just need serial sequesters until the pain becomes measurable.