Despite what the media and politicians would have us believe, the United States did not collapse last Friday when the package of spending reductions known as "sequestration" went into effect. The financial markets hardly blinked, as they have come to be more skeptical about these periodic government-hyped "crises."
What had been portrayed as a drastic reduction in government spending was merely a decrease in the projected rate of increase in government spending over the next decade. Under sequestration, government spending increases by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years rather than $2.5 trillion without it.
So we are speeding toward collapse at only 100 miles per hour instead of 110 miles per hour.
Some in Congress are using the panic over sequestration to justify another surrender of legislative authority to the executive branch. These members want to "pass the buck" on prioritizing federal programs by giving the president, cabinet officials and high-level bureaucrats authority to set spending priorities. However, it is Congress's job to set priorities in federal spending.
The drafters of the Constitution gave the legislature the authority over spending because they recognized it was a threat to liberty to allow this power to be concentrated in the executive branch. Congress's willingness to cede more authority to the executive should be opposed by everyone who values liberty and limited government.
Some of the loudest objections to sequestration have come from the champions of the military-industrial complex. Yet under sequestration defense spending will still increase by 18 percent over 10 years as opposed to 20 percent without sequestration.
There are claims that the military will face a one-time real reduction back to 2007 levels of spending, before beginning to climb again next year. That remains to be seen. However, few claimed at the time that 2007 levels of military spending, occurring as they did during the huge post-9/11 build-up, were inadequate.
But despite the fact that the US spends more on military than the rest of the world combined, we are told that even this modest, short-term reduction would be, in the words of outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, "shameful" and "irresponsible." A return to 1980s levels of military spending in real dollars – a time of significant military build-up – is considered outrageous even though the US faces no Soviet Union or equivalent threat.
In fact, the entire $1.2 trillion dollars that the sequester is supposed to save could be realized by cutting one unneeded, wasteful boondoggle: the $1.5 trillion F-35 fighter program. The F-35, billed as the next generation all-purpose military fighter and bomber, has been an unmitigated disaster. Its performances in recent tests have been so bad that the Pentagon has been forced to dumb-down the criteria. It is overweight, overpriced and unwieldy. It is also an anachronism: We no longer face the real prospect of air-to-air combat in this era of 4th generation warfare. The World War II mid-air dogfight era is long over.
As defense analyst Winslow Wheeler wrote last year:
"It's time for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the U.S. military services, and Congress to face the facts: The F-35 is an unaffordable mediocrity, and the program will not be fixed by any combination of hardware tweaks or cost-control projects. There is only one thing to do with the F-35: Junk it."
We should not look for cancellation of the F-35 program any time soon, however. The military industrial complex understands the political necessity of spreading its military Keynesianism as widely across Congressional districts as possible.
That is why F-35 manufacturer Lockheed-Martin can boast on its website that "the F-35 provides 127,000 direct and indirect jobs in 47 states and Puerto Rico." What is unfortunately not understood is that these 127,000 workers would be far better utilized producing needed goods and services rather than treated as a jobs program disguised as national defense.
Despite the alarm over cuts that are not real cuts, it is clear that the US government is not serious at all about changing its ways. In a recent tour of the Middle East, newly-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the US would be sending another $60 million to the rebels seeking to overthrow the Syrian government – in the midst of the sequester "crisis"!
Despite the rhetoric, there appears no intention on the part of the government to take our fiscal crisis seriously or abandon the idea that we should run the rest of the world.