Why hasn't the American public risen up in fury at Republicans over the sequester's annoyances and inconveniences, as President Obama had clearly hoped? Because the annoying things about the sequester perfectly play into decades worth of Republican talking points about government being dumb and wasteful and run by people who lack basic common sense. As Dick Armey, the House Majority Leader who helped pass Newt Gingrich's Contract with America and then lead FreedomWorks, the organization that planted the seeds of the Tea Party, liked to say, "The market is rational, the government is dumb." Over the last several decades, the big fight in Washington has been between people who think government can help the economy and those who think it can only hinder it. In his State of the Union, Obama called on the government to make "investments" in infrastructure, education, and science. "Get government out of the way, and this economy will come roaring back," Mike Pence said on the House floor in 2010.
As we've been told many times, the sequester was designed to be dumb. Though it requires differing cuts in various spending categories, the sequester only reduces spending by a mere 2.2 percent of the budget this year — just $85 billion — but mandates that the cuts come from nearly every government program. The government will not shut down during the sequester, but it will makes thousands upon thousands of small cuts to meet the sequester's requirements. Some of these are painful. For instance, we've hear a lot about the FAA flight controllers being furloughed (part of the time) which lead to flight delays. ABC News ran through some of the other inane decisions: states are sending out smaller unemployment benefit checks, Meals on Wheels programs are delivering fewer meals to the elderly, the FDA will conduct 2,100 fewer food inspections, the U.S. Geological Survey is shutting down some of its streamgate stations which it uses to predict floods.
The cuts are widespread and painful for those affected, but they are also not nearly as dramatic as the factoids produced by a complete government shutdown. (Sad schoolchildren can't go to national parks! Travelers can't get passports!) In the past shutdowns have played relatively well for Democrats who get to remind people of the good things government does and Republicans look mean for depriving us of those things. The sequester is instead forcing government to make dumb choices that only reinforce the idea that the government can't make common-sense choices.
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