Feeling a bit sequestered
March 1, 2013
Are we sequestered yet? Between my deadline and the time this hits your porch, the big federal budget cuts are supposed to kick in. It is either the end of the world with the economy plunging back into recession, or not a big deal. It depends on which braying member of Congress you are listening too. The only thing certain is that this is conclusive proof that Congress is unable to do its job.
The setup on this was a long time ago. They couldn’t agree on a budget (haven’t in years), and there was the artificial crisis of a debt-ceiling limit needing adjustment. So they finally agreed to authorize selling more bonds to pay the bills that were already due. But to prove that they really mean business about all this stuff, they built the "sequester" into the formula. It’s a poison pill that forces across-the-board budget cuts that were supposed to be so distasteful to both sides that it would force them to act. And act they did. The members of Congress promptly cashed their paychecks and went on vacation.
So now that the deadline they created is upon them, they are hysterical. It completely took them by surprise. They assumed the cleaning lady would have taken care of the mess while they were on vacation. So here we are.
There are options. They could actually do their job and adopt a responsible budget that deals with both spending cuts and some revenue increases. Or they could vote to defuse the bomb they created. Or they could do nothing and let the spending cuts kick in. The smart money is on doing nothing.
The cuts aren’t huge, but are big enough to matter if you are relying on the federal programs getting cut. Visitors to the national parks will face locked restrooms and ranger talks with fewer M&Ms in his pocket when describing the unique flavor of the droppings of some endangered rabbit.
The cuts will hit the Defense Department more deeply. On the Willie Sutton theory that you rob banks because that’s where the money is, they are going after the Pentagon, which is the ultimate black hole for money to disappear into.
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We spend more on defense than the next dozen or so countries combined. There’s room for some slicing there. But if you are a civilian employee at Hill Air Force Base and get a 20 percent pay cut, it hurts just as much as if you had been cut back from any other job. Hill is a huge factor in the state’s economy, and that payroll cut will ripple through the Ogden area economy, and the state’s budget as whole.
So in the short run, it’s an inconvenience for most of us and a real hardship on a few who are hit directly. If Congress actually does something, the cuts may get done rationally, and do some good. If left alone, on the self-destruct setting, it will do some damage. Some claim there are 700,000 jobs on the line.
Because the federal government has a thumb in everything, the impacts will be felt everywhere. There will be fewer TSA agents groping the same number of airline passengers, so air travel will lose some of the charm it has now. It’s not clear whether it will take 10 percent longer to have them rifle through your underwear, or if the level of inspection will be 10 percent less thorough. It maybe doesn’t matter because there won’t be enough air-traffic controllers on duty to let the planes take off anyway. Either way, the airports will be a mess.
Meat inspection is a federal function. So if there are 10 percent fewer meat inspectors on duty at the packing houses, the meat will either be inspected less carefully, or there will be less of it inspected. We should expect 10 percent more E. coli either way, proving that not all the b.s. is in the halls of Congress.
Speaking of meat inspection, Ikea has pulled its famous Swedish meatballs from the menus in all of its European restaurants after discovering that they contained horsemeat. The meat had come from a supplier in the Czech Republic, and while it was supposed to be beef, tests showed it contained up to 10 percent horse. It started with the Swedish meatballs but has now expanded to include the little wieners too.
The horsemeat scandal has galloped all over Europe since Ireland first discovered horsemeat in ground beef sold there. There have been recalls in several countries, while in other countries where eating horses is culturally acceptable, it’s no big deal.
Ikea’s explanation was pretty understandable. They were assembling the Swedish meatballs and got them all finished, but there were all these other parts left over that they had to use someplace
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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