A first step in sobering up Washington.
President Barack Obama clearly doesn’t like how the threat of sequestration, an idea he owns but now dishonestly wants to disown, is working out.
In a Tuesday speech, Obama went into campaign mode overdrive, claiming that, as summarized in a brilliant Tuesday evening Wall Street Journal editorial with an ever better title (“President Armageddon”): “If Republicans don’t raise taxes in return for more spending, the world will end.”
Despite a fiscal cliff deal which included $15 billion in spending “cuts” (really “reductions in projected spending”) and over $600 billion in tax increases, the President is still demanding more from “the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.” Despite the fact that his administration’s has spent 26 percent more during its first four years than the Bush 43 administration spent during its final four, Obama and Democratic leaders continue to insist that the federal government doesn’t have a spending problem. Despite running up $5.9 trillion in additional debt, much of it driven by congressional and executive actions during Obama’s first two years which have unfortunately never been reversed, Obama contemptuously refers to the “so-called debt ceiling.”
As to the inane argument that a roughly 1.2 percent reduction in projected spending ($44 billion, not $85 billion, compared to annual spending of about $3.6 trillion) will, all by itself, in Obama’s words, “hurt our economy … add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls … (and) the unemployment rate might tick up again,” all of this is already happening — and House Speaker John Boehner’s current and hopefully future firm position on sequestration has nothing to do with it.
The economy is already in a “hurt” condition.
January’s initial reading on the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during last year’s fourth quarter was that it contracted by an annualized 0.1 percent. Though it appears that this number may go positive in subsequent revisions, the fact remains that the economy is closer to going back into recession than it has been at any other time since the last one officially ended 3-1/2 years ago.
Last week, Bloomberg News exposed internal emails revealing how Walmart executives are nearly panic-stricken about early sales during its February reporting period, describing the results thus far as “a total disaster.” I have separately confirmed that top management’s serious concerns have been shared with frontline store managers.
The internal company correspondence largely blamed the slump on the end of the two percentage point Social Security payroll tax cut which had been in place for two years. Obama agreed to allow this effective tax increase on 77 percent of Americans to happen during December’s fiscal cliff negotiations, representing a complete about-face from his and his administration’s warnings about the horrors which would ensue if reinstatement were to occur just ten months earlier.
Worriers at Walmart and other retailers (“Where are all the customers? And where’s their money?”) have another serious concern: gas prices, which as of when this column was submitted had risen for 32 straight days. According to USA Today, “Experts say prices should continue rising at least 5 cents a week until early April.” If so, they will break through the psychologically impactful $4 per gallon barrier. Additionally, note that the true national average gas price is probably six cents or so higher than the figure on which the establishment press usually relies. The average disposable income reduction caused by the payroll tax hike and the projected gas price increase on a family earning $50,000 per year is at least $150 per month.
Obama knows, or should know, that “hundreds of thousands of Americans” are constantly added to the unemployment rolls every week, even during good times. Of course, hundreds of thousand are also hired. The important current point is that for at least the past two years until very recently, weekly job losses as measured in filings for initial unemployment claims (before the Department of Labor’s exercise in distortion known as “seasonal adjustment”) had usually been declining in year-over-year comparisons by between 6 percent and 15 percent. During the past five reported weeks in 2013 combined, they’ve been virtually the same as they were a year ago.
The unemployment rate doesn’t need any help in “ticking up.” It rose to 7.9 percent in January. It has never been below 7.8 percent since Obama took office in January 2009. It will be no surprise to anyone if it “ticks up” again, without or without sequestration.
Sorry, Mr. President. The economic decay which you claim is a possible future event has been underway for several months — and if it gets worse, it will have almost nothing to do with sequestration, and almost everything to do with your economic and fiscal policies during the past four years. You’re the nation’s Chief Executive. If you want to find $44 billion to avoid your self-created catastrophe, do something about the at least $125 billion in improper payments the Government Accountability Office says your executive branch makes every single year.
At this point, allowing sequestration to happen is a precondition for beginning the sobering-up process the political class in Washington must undergo if this country is to financially survive.
So let it happen.