Something The President Could Learn From The Pope

obamahaloWell, there are quite a few somethings, really. There’s no doubt that there are many who see Obama as a savior-like figure who will deliver him or her from whatever perceived injustice “victimizes” him or her. However misplaced that perception may be (that’s the subject for another blog), there is a lesson the president could learn from the Vicar of Christ regarding humility, and frugality.

Recently, it has been reported that Pope Francis has made a decision to stay at the Saint Martha (Vatican workers’) residence, rather than at the papal apartment in the Apostolic Residence. Initially, the Pope was staying at Saint Martha’s due to renovations to the Residence, in addition to the fact that the Cardinal Electors were staying there during the conclave.

popeHowever, now that the renovations have been complete, and the Cardinals have moved out, the Pope has decided to stay at Casa Santa Marta for the forseeable future. Not that this is any shock. While Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the pope declined to stay at the Archbishops residence, and instead kept a small apartment and cooked for himself. He even relied on public transportation rather than having a limo and driver. While at the workers’ residence, the pope has already invited street sweepers, gardeners, and the Vatican staff to join him in his daily Mass.

This picture presents a vast contrast with President Obama over the last few months, and especially since the Fiscal Cliff, and sequestration were going to end the world. In that time, the Obamas have taken three vacations (four if you count the fact that one was “separate vacations” with Michelle and the girls skiing while Barack flew to Florida for some golf with Tiger Woods). Now of course, the president needs to take some time off, I’m not denying that; the presidency is probably the most stressful job in the world (just look at the before and after photos of the presidents), but these aren’t the George W. Bush/Ronald Reagan types of vacations where the president flies back home and clears some brush of his ranch. No, these are the full luxury, exotic and expensive type of vacations that cost the taxpayers lots of money.

As a run-down, the Obamas began the year in Hawaii for nine days and five rounds of golf; then over Washington’s Birthday, Michelle and the girls flew to Aspen for a ski trip, while the Duffer-in-Chief flew to Miami for more golf (and President Barack Obama greets professional gol...pointers) from Tiger Woods. Now, we hear that the Obama girls are in the Bahamas for a spring break vacation. I’m not going to speculate on the actual cost of these three vacations, but it’s not cheap to fire up Air Force One to jaunt over to Hawaii or even Florida. Then there is the cost of accommodations (say, didn’t VP Biden just spent $585,000 for one night in Paris?) and security. To put things in perspective, it cost $80,000 alone for police and Secret Service protection just for Obama’s golf weekend. One might have thought that Obama might have realized that the $80,000 expenditure alone would look bad in light of the decision to stop White House tours for a savings of $74,000 a week from the same Secret Service budget; but hey, as long as he gets to take those savings to exploit all the perks and trapping of his office, right?

Again, contrast this behavior with that of the Pope, who has eschewn all of the perks and trappings of his “office” to remain closer to “the people” in order to help spread the ministry of Christ. Perhaps if Obama had thought it necessary to get “closer to the people”, instead of flying down to Miami for some golf, he could have invited Tiger Woods up to D.C. for a weekend stay at the White House (not like Woods can’t afford it), and a few rounds of golf at one of the many nearby courses, perhaps even the “same golf course Obama and Republican Speaker John Boehner played on in 2011.” Nah, who am I kidding? It’s much more fun to go jet-setting across the country on the taxpayers’ dime all the while complaining about budget cuts that he passes along to the citizens anyway (such as no Easter Egg Roll- wait can I say Easter?–  in addition to no tours). It must be good to be the king…

Say, The White House Wasn’t Kidding About That Memo

Remember about three weeks ago when an internal government memo directing employees to make the sequestration “cuts” as painful as possible was discovered? That specific memo was directed towards the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and specified that “… it is our opinion that however you manage that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be.” The impact of course, was that funding for fish inspections would have to be cut; therefore, rather than finding other ways to cut the budget in order to eliminate the impact on food inspection, the agency was directed to cut the funding regardless.

One would think that given the backlash the administration received when the memo was released (not to mention for the general good of The Reagans at the 1982 White House Easter Egg...the country), that strategy would be walked back. Unfortunately, with the President Petulant running the administration, that hasn’t been the case, and it seems like they’ve ratcheted up on making the budget cuts “as panful as possible.”  Not only have tours of the White House been canceled, it looks like the traditional White House Easter Egg Roll will also be a sequestration “casualty.”

While these events are certainly traditional and it is a shame that they have/may be canceled, to be fair, they don’t really affect public safety. However, as Jazz Shaw notes over at Hot Air, it looks like an issue directly relating to public safety is the latest pawn in the White House strategy: namely, the closing of 149 region airport control towers. Given that the “cuts” amount to a little more than $600 million of a $62 billion budget, he wonders if there’s not something afoot with the closures:

They need to cut $637M out of their budget, but how big is that budget? And how big of a percentage would you need to slash before you just start shutting down towers? Doug Mataconis thinks there might be a little more to see here than just red and black numbers on a balance sheet. Could it be… politics?

In fact, Jazz thinks that there could be even more in play than making the “cuts” painful:

I’m not doubting that for a moment, but somehow I think there’s yet another layer to this onion. It’s not just the number of towers being shut down, but which specific ones. And more to the point… who works there. When you scan down the list of closures, these are all towers which are managed and staffed by private contractors. Not one of them is staffed up by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association union. That’s something of a remarkable coincidence, isn’t it? Maybe not.

The union workers will be forced to take off one day without pay every two weeks, which spreads the pain around a little but their jobs and their towers aren’t going away. And leave it to public sector unions to find a way to wring a silver (or green) lining out of any dark cloud. Assume there is some sort of public outcry this year after a couple of regional jets clip wings on the runways of some municipal airports. At that point, Washington gets the excuse they need to staff at least some of the towers back up. Will they go back to the private contractors, or will the unions move in with their “much more efficient” practices.

bidenfingers

I only spent THIS much

Playing politics with the welfare of the nation and economy, and advancing the cause of union power. More standard operating procedure from the Juvenile in Chief. In a rational world, one might think that if the president was more interested in making the cuts work and rolling back government spending (as he is want to pay lip service to), he could start by looking into that $585,000 hotel bill Joe Biden and entourage racked up for a one night stay in Paris in February (more than$1 million including his London stay).

Yeah, who am I kidding? They’re more interested in trying to destroy Republicans than doing what’s best for the nation.

John Kerry’s Not Worried About Sequestration

According to the president, the reductions in the increase in future spending (also known as the sequestration “cuts”) signed into law on March 1, 2013 will essentially bring the government to it’s knees, and quite possibly usher in the zombie apocolypse:

Now, what’s important to understand is that not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away. The pain, though, will be real. Beginning this week, many middle-class families will have their lives disrupted in significant ways. Businesses that work with the military, like the Virginia shipbuilder that I visited on Tuesday, may have to lay folks off. Communities near military bases will take a serious blow. Hundreds of thousands of Americans who serve their country — Border Patrol agents, FBI agents, civilians who work at the Pentagon — all will suffer significant pay cuts and furloughs.

All of this will cause a ripple effect throughout our economy. Layoffs and pay cuts means that people have less money in their pockets, and that means that they have less money to spend at local businesses. That means lower profits. That means fewer hires. The longer these cuts remain in place, the greater the damage to our economy — a slow grind that will intensify with each passing day.

So economists are estimating that as a consequence of this sequester, that we could see growth cut by over one-half of 1 percent. It will cost about 750,000 jobs at a time when we should be growing jobs more quickly. So every time that we get a piece of economic news, over the next month, next two months, next six months, as long as the sequester is in place, we’ll know that that economic news could have been better if Congress had not failed to act.

john-kerry

However, it’s nice to know that at least one person in the administration is not worried about the “devastating” effect of sequestration. That’s right, our intrepid new Secretary of State, John Kerry is so unconcerned about the effects here at home that he feels comfortable pledging millions more in aid to Egypt:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday the United States will give Egypt $250 million more in aid, following President Mohammed Morsi’s pledges for political and economic reforms.

“The American people want to see the political and economic success of our long-time partners and friends in Egypt,” Kerry said in Cairo. “We look forward to continuing to work closely with all Egyptians. But “it is clear that more hard work and compromise will be required to restore unity, political stability and economic health to Egypt.”

Apparently, while sequestration means that we have to furlough border agents, thereby weakening our security, that’s not enough to keep us from giving millions to a country that can’t even be counted on as an ally. Furthermore, this is a country whose president has threatened Israel (our closest ally in the region), and has already received millions of dollars in the form of military tanks and F-16 fighter planes. Here’s an idea – maybe if we stopped sending billions of dollars to every banana republic and tin pot dictator with his hand out, most of whom don’t-and will never-like us (see: Pok-ee-stahhhhn), we could cut spending sensibly be keeping some of that money home. Might also prevent the need for more tax increases.

Unfortunately, this type of contradiction and double-speak is standard operating procedure for this administration. Oh, and those crickets chirping? That’s the media calling them on it.

Surprise: Obama Has More Flexibility Under Sequestration Than He’s Letting On

One of the main features of Obama’s sequestration demagoguery is that he does not have the flexibility to decide which funds are cut, and that he is not able to direct funds from one area to another in order to preserve essential government functions and personnel. This is why he’s been going around saying that teachers will have to be laid off, the border will go unprotected and illegal crossers released, planes will fall from the sky; essentially that the world as we know it will end.

Aside from the fact that a 2% cut in future spending should not lead to any of the above outcomes, it appears as though all of this doomsday speech is nothing but rhetoric on Obama’s part (albeit highly-focused political rhetoric). Specifically, it appears that the sequester actually grants Obama the power to prioritize how the cuts are implemented. The Wall Street Journal explains:

According to Mr. Obama and his budget office, the sequester cuts are indiscriminate and spell out specific percentages that will be subtracted from federal “projects, programs and activities,” or PPAs. Except for the exemptions in the 2011 budget deal, the White House says it must now cut across the board regardless of how important a given PPA is. Food inspectors, say, will be treated the same as subsidies for millionaire farmers.

Not so fast. Programs, projects and activities are a technical category of the federal budget, but the sequester actually occurs at the roughly 1,200 broader units known as budget accounts. Some accounts are small, but others contain hundreds of PPAs and the larger accounts run to billions of dollars. For the Pentagon in particular, the distinction between PPAs and accounts is huge. This means in most cases the President has the room to protect his “investments” while managing the fiscal transition over time.

Congress might have intended for the sequester to apply to PPAs, but they also wrote a sloppy law at the 11th hour. The Budget Control Act of 2011 disinterred the lapsed sequester rules of the Gramm-Rudman Deficit Control Act of 1985, though without anyone looking at the details.

Take the normal household budget as an (imperfect) analogy. The entire budget would represent the federal budget, we’ll say each category (groceries, entertainment, etc.) represent a budget account, and each item (vegetables, snack foods, dvd rentals, sporting events and so on) represent projects, programs, and activities (PPAs). In a nutshell, Obama has been exclaiming that the sequester is a hatchet that is forcing him to cut as much spending on vegetables as on snack foods; on DVD rentals as four tickets to an NFL game. However, according to Gramm-Rudman Deficit Control Act of 1985, a sequester applies only at the level of the budget account, therefore Obama should have the authority to direct department heads to shift spending from one PPA to another – in other words, cutting out the junk food so that we can still have our vegetables.

Ironically, these rules only apply when the government is operating under continuing resolutions (CRs). If a budget was actually passed and spending was being so directed, then sequestration would find its way down to individual PPAs – the Democrats’ failure to pass a budget looks to have backfired on them in this instance.

After some wonkishness on PPAs and Gramm-Rudman, the WSJ continues:

In any case, Republicans in Congress are prepared to give Mr. Obama still more spending flexibility than he already has to mitigate any damage, real or imagined. One option is to lock in spending at post-sequester levels and grant department heads so-called transfer authority to shift cash between accounts, after consultation with the committees on the Hill.

Erika Johnsen has more over at Hot Air on the plan offered by Sens. Inhofe (R-OK) and Toomey (R-PA) to grant authority to the five service chiefs to transfer funds among PPAs in the defense budget to mitigate the effect of the “cuts” to the DoD, including an expansion of this authority to the various department heads for the remainder of the programs affected by sequestration.

As the WSJ surmises:

Mr. Obama ought to love that, since it is precisely the administrative state he says he wants—the rule of technocrats who evaluate budget priorities without political interference. But liberals are now howling about more liberal executive power because this plan would also very modestly reduce the size of government.

It would also negate Mr. Obama’s days-of-wrath sequester campaign.

Perhaps that’s why Obama, in addition to demagoging the sequester has now taken up opposition to any such plan:

“Lately, some people have been saying, ‘Well, maybe we’ll just give the president some flexibility. He could make the cuts the way he wants, and that way it won’t be as damaging,’” Obama said.

“The problem is when you’re cutting $85 billion in seven months, which represents over a 10 percent cut in the defense budget in seven months, there’s no smart way to do that,” he said. “You don’t want to have to choose between, let’s see, do I close funding for the disabled kid or the poor kid? Do I close this Navy shipyard or some other one?”

That’s why, as Moe Lane astutely (and humorously) describes, Obama is now flailing away at trying to campaign against sequestration, hitting as many buttons as he can in hopes something hits – it’s the only thing he’s qualified to do. I am convinced that he’s campaigning so hard because he’s frightened that he’s about to become the boy who’s cried wolf one too many times; and in a scenario where unemployment and Q1/Q2 GDP data show the economy as ‘flat’ or growing a few months from now, Americans will realize that cutting government spending isn’t so bad after all, and Obama was just trying to scare people over something that wasn’t a big deal. The community organizer might just find himself without much of a community for organizing. The money line comes from the WSJ:

The real revelation is that if the world does end, it will be Mr. Obama’s choice.

Amen

Overboard Obamaquester Obfuscations

By now, anyone who’s been paying attention, even casually, knows what sequestration is (even if he or she can’t pronounce it). We also know that the “cuts” included in the sequester amount to a staggering 2% of federal spending (is actually a reduction of future baseline spending – more will still be spent next year). We’re all also painfully aware that Obama is once again demagoguing the issue and trying to shift blame to the GOP.

Let’s not forget that the media has been a willing accomplice in this blame game. In fact, we’ve been so conditioned that this is an issue between Obama and Rupublicans in Congress that when a recent Washington Post/Pew survey left off a crucial choice in their question of who to blame if the Obamaquester “cuts” go into effect:

wapo-pew-question

I couldn’t even recognize the ommission (Democrats in the Senate – h/t Ed Morrissey). For more information on the sequestration timeline, there is an informative infographic at the bottom of the post (due to its size).

As the sequester approaches, Obama has fully implemented the “Washington Monument Strategy” and ratched-up his doomsday speech, suggesting that thousands of teachers will have to be laid off, and sending out his surrogates to describe the catastrophic effects of this 2% budget cut such as decreased border security and travel delays:

In my mind, such a display suggests Obama is the worst executive imaginable if a 2% reduction in future spending necessitates the above-described purge of essential services and personnel. Amy Payne at Heritage give a more graphic description:

If you had to cut your family’s budget, where would you cut?

Would you immediately start starving your children and stop wearing shoes? Of course not. You would look at the extras in your life—whether they were coffee shop lattes, movie tickets, or restaurant meals.

It’s a good thing the President wouldn’t be handling your budget. As Dan Holler of our sister organization, Heritage Action for America, has said: “If President Obama were making the decision for your family… he’d tell you to stop buying gas for your car and explain how you could only eat five days a week.”

However, it also brings up a very relevant question. Namely, is sequestration a good way to go about cutting federal spending? I think that I’m in the majority when I say no, because the sequester only targets non-mandatory, discretionary spending and leaves the prime driver of our debt (entitlement spending) untouched.

In his article this morning, David Brooks (in addition to creating a Twitter hashtag bonanza with his “My Dream Obama”) echoes this, but predictable blames Republicans:

Moreover, I think Republicans could be persuaded that it’s crazy to harp on discretionary spending, which is a deficit sideshow. They should focus their energies on entitlements.

Might I remind the purveyor of perfectly creased pants that under the guidance of Republicans, the House has passed two bills to replace the sequester cuts with common sense, responsible cuts and spending reforms: 1. H.R. 5652, Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act; and 2. H.R. 6684, Spending Reduction Act of 2012. Notably (in light of the poll question above) the Democrat controlled Senate refused to consider either.

One thing is clear, though. There is no need to cut essential services and personnel over a 2% reduction in future spending. Amy Payne further observes:

It makes no sense to hit defense the hardest with these cuts, while sequestration leaves major entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicaid untouched. Congress should reprogram these spending cuts to target the waste and inefficiencies it has already identified in federal agencies—like those listed above. Heritage’s Patrick Louis Knudsen, the Grover M. Hermann Senior Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs, even helpfully outlined places to find $150 billion in spending cuts that would make a lot more sense.

So no, we don’t have to fire firefighters and teachers and airport screeners. What Congress should be doing is what every American family does—tightening its budget by cutting things that are unnecessary.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) noticed one specific area that could be cut back to help “save” some of the essential personnel on Obama’s chopping block:

Coburn, in a letter to Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeff Zients, wrote Monday that there are 10 “non-essential” job advertisements running on the government’s hiring website, http://www.usajobs.com. Coburn said freezing hiring for these positions alone would save $1.4 million.

On the list are ads for 10 State Department drivers, a Labor Department receptionist earning up to $81,204 a year, a human resources position at the Department of Agriculture paying up to $179,000 a year and an Air Force museum official making up to $165,300 per year.

“Are any of these positions more important than an air traffic controller, a border patrol officer, a food inspector, a TSA screener, or a civilian supporting our men and women in combat in Afghanistan?” Coburn wrote.

“Instituting such a hiring freeze and re-assigning any of the necessary duties associated with each to current employees will allow federal agencies to adapt to the current fiscal realities without laying off or furloughing civil servants who are performing truly critical or absolutely necessary functions,” he added.

Just another example of the thoughtless, wasteful spending by this administration. Looks like sequestration can’t come soon enough. After all, as you can hear right from the lips of the man himself (Senator Coburn, that is), the fear and panic over the Obamaquester (like most everything to do with this president) is way overblown:

Parting thought: I am convinced that the amount of fear mongering coming from Obama and his minions of sequestrations is the direct result of their fear that the “cuts” will happen, then life will go on as normal, it won’t be the end of the world. People will then begin to realize that cutting government spending isn’t so bad after all, and that Obama was doing nothing but trying to scare everyone over nothing. Essentially, Obama will become the “boy who cried wolf” one too many times, and he will start losing his bully pulpit (especially after the Obamacare taxes and fees start to hit). What do you think?

sequester_timeline

Much Needed Humor: Sequestration Cartoons

Every once in a while, we need to just sit back, take a break and enjoy a good laugh. In that spirit, I present some of my favorite political cartoons dealing with sequestration. While they are all funny, they all reveal the underlying truth about the “cuts.” Namely the whole issue is an occasion for political brinksmanship, and that the $45-$88 Billion represented by the sequester is only 2-3% of federal spending.

So, without further ado, and without any additional commentary, I present for your enjoyment:

Sequester_fear_spreading

sequester_mirror

sequester_spending

sequester_die

sequester-cartoon-benson

sequester-cartoon-holbert

RamirezObamaSequesterBoomerang2-23-13_600_jpg

I hope you all enjoyed them as much as I have. It’s times like these where we really need to keep our senses of humor.

UPDATE

As sequestration gets closer and more cartoons are being published, I’ll add more of my favorites:

sequester_falling

sequester-pie

sequester_blame

sequester_snake

sequester-red