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Sequester Rhetoric Reveals an Ideology of Dependency

March 1st has come and gone. Look around … make sure the sky hasn’t fallen, the buildings haven’t crumbled, unemployed masses aren’t mulling around on the sidewalks. Throw water in your face … make sure that you’re not dreaming. Am I being absurd? No, I am merely taking necessary precautions in the aftermath of the supposed apocalypse. According to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member on the House Financial Services Committee, 170 million jobs could be lost as a result of the sequester. President Obama falsely warned that the Capitol janitors and security guards were going to get pay cuts. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan incorrectly stated that teachers would be receiving “pink slips.” Many Republicans and the Department of Defense officials claimed that our nation would not be able to defend itself after such massive and sudden cuts. Based on our leadership’s rhetoric, the sequester meant nothing short of disaster. Yet, in reality, none of the active-duty members of the armed forces will get furlough notices or pay cuts. Programs that protect the most vulnerable populations will not be touched, including the budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), grants to states for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Many affected government agencies are scaling back new research projects and plans for technological innovation rather than laying employees off. In the grand scheme of things, $85 billion is being cut from a budget that is likely to be near $4 trillion—in sum, about 0.45 percent. As Jonah Goldberg recently wrote:
The federal government has grown inexorably for decades. Our president casts himself as a Solomonic manager, and yet he is saying that absent a few extra pennies on every dollar, there’s no way he can maintain government’s core functions? A manager in any other field of human endeavor would be fired on the spot for making such an argument. But in Washington, this passes for leadership.
All this being said, I am not a huge fan of the sequester. The cuts could be made much more wisely, particularly since they focus solely on discretionary spending and not on entitlements—the cause of our debt woes in the first place. And after years of deliberation over deficit reduction, it is pathetic that Congress and the president failed to come up with a better solution. I also understand the fears of others. The full effects of sequestration will take some time to be seen. And certainly, there are many who will painfully feel those effects. I do not mean to belittle the sacrifices that will be made. But in general, the dramatic rhetoric that was slung prior to March 1 was more about politics and ideology than reality. Partly, it was a partisan “blame game” to see who could come out with more political capital. Even more concerning though, was the ideological message that it sent to the American people: “Your livelihood depends on the federal government.” Let’s get this straight. No man can live life without the help of others. We are all dependent on God, family and communities. But the government should not be included on that list. Government can do very good things, such as preserve order, enact justice and provide certain public goods. However, we’ve come to a time in our nation when we cannot fathom surviving a tiny government pay cut. And that’s a problem. Hopefully the hullabaloo over the sequester will serve as a reality check. Adversity will have to be overcome, but life will go on. Apparently, even the Obama Administration is beginning to realize this. The mindset that government is the provider of our livelihood must come to an end. Remember George Orwell’s warning—government is not meant to be our “big brother.” Yes, we should depend on God, family and community in order to flourish as humans. But as a nation, we place entirely too much dependence and trust in our government. If the sequester can remind us of this, then it will be worth the pain that it may bring.