After the Mayan Apocalypse and asteroid both missed us by miles, I was so worried that I would have to stop writing excitably about the impending end of the world. But that just shows what I know.
Man-made crises are taking up the slack where natural catastrophes fail.
If you want to be hit by a lot of rapidly free-falling debris from space, just keep doing what we’re doing to the NASA budget. If you want to suffer precisely the torments that the Mayans would have inflicted on us had they returned to take charge of Earth as predicted, with all the waiting in long lines to appease some angry god, just look at what the sequester is likely to do to airline travel.
It is amazing how much $85.4 billion in cuts, to take effect Friday, can do. Apparently, that is all the money needed to keep everything from going to hell in a handbasket. Once the cuts take effect, furloughed TSA employees will rove, screeching, through the fireman-less streets, scanning strangers with batons and devouring our young, who will be stuck without teachers — or at least without any Good, Difference-Making Teachers. Or something. It certainly sounds that way. I think someone might be slightly overselling it — just slightly.
The actual federal budget is $3.55 trillion, so these cuts don’t amount to much more than 2 percent, but in individual programs the cuts are steeper: 13 percent to defense, and 9 percent to discretionary domestic spending. They aren’t chopping any entire programs, just cleaving off bits of them. And now that it’s real, it hurts. “No, wait,” we say. “That’s not discretionary. That’s my favorite domestic program. That’s what makes America America. And why do we need to cut it at this time, when we’re just barely recovering?”
This is the same reason that every month I decide that I am going to save money, and then I wind up eliminating vegetables from my diet. “This is kind of like savings,” I say. “And you can’t expect me to give up Starbucks!” This is why I usually try to increase revenue instead. It is so much easier than sorting out what you don’t need.
Next time, instead of these indiscriminate hackings, perhaps we could cut the Drama department — it seems to have done its work, if everyone’s finger-pointing and arm-waving on the subject is any indication.
“”Would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special-interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations?” President Obama asked, surrounded by firemen, schoolchildren and pandas who were going to be waterboarded by their zookeepers the instant the sequester kicked in, because the line in the budget that seemed most obvious to cut was the line preventing panda torture.
“I am ashamed of my country,” Rush Limbaugh spouted, citing a panda who said he would be happy to take what was coming if it meant savings, and summoning Thomas Jefferson’s ghost to observe that back in his day, they had seen millions of jobs threatened and never even blinked an eye.
I had no idea that $85.4 billion annually, out of a budget of $3.55 trillion, was all that was standing between us and Everything We Fear Most: massive lines at airports, planes zigging and zagging unsafely between unmanned control towers, guard-free borders, danger lurking in the streets, you name it. No wonder we’ve never cut anything before and are content to spiral into debt. I had no idea airplane travel could be worse. I’ll never propose a spending cut again! Please, make it stop!
This is the trouble with an approach to fixing the budget based only on cuts.
You seldom run into a scenario where you are confronted with the need to make budget cuts and Frank over in accounting raises his hand and says, “Oh, good, I was hoping we would do this! I’m completely superfluous! Everything I do here is redundant! And that goes for the entire Alchemy department! Why do we have an Alchemy department anyway? That’s not a real science!”
If only this happened. No. Instead, it’s the usual conjugation problem. I am essential. You, we could do without, if pressed. He is entirely superfluous.
“Why aren’t we cutting waste?”
“Who here is waste?”
“Maybe Dave is?”
Then again, unlike the case of the asteroid and the Mayans, the majority of people remain unpanicked by the sequester. According to a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll released Thursday, most Americans still haven’t heard about the looming cuts. And even then, 4 of 10 say to go ahead.
But wait until they get to the airport.