Let's get real on the "sequester." One month in, not much has changed. Nor is it likely to. Rather than devastating the federal government, the sequester is necessary to rein in the unbridled growth of federal spending.
The sequester is certainly flawed. It's a blunt instrument leaving the biggest spending drivers, entitlements, virtually untouched. It means that over the next decade, federal spending will skyrocket just a little less, growing 67% rather than 69%.
It grossly misplaces priorities, forcing national defense to shoulder half of the cuts though it's less than one-fifth of the budget, even as North Korea and Iran show that the world isn't getting any safer.
Other agencies will have real cuts, too. But that's as it should be in an era of trillion dollar deficits. Spending has exploded since 2002: energy up 1,751%; foreign aid up 95%; K-12 education up 145% — after adjusting for inflation. And though the recession was over in 2009, safety-net spending on food stamps is at an all-time high as states push people into the program.
Many programs are not accountable. Transportation Security Administration employment has gone up since 2007, though airline travel has decreased. And officials awarded a $50 million contract for new uniforms one week before the cuts.
No room to cut?
This isn't a problem of too little revenue. Recent tax increases will send revenues 5% higher than average. But spending will continue to climb unless Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are tackled. If we want to talk taxes, we need growth-oriented tax reform rather than a Cyprus-style class warfare agenda.
We should take a moment to celebrate the Senate passing its first budget in four years. To be sure, it is a hugely flawed plan, but it means that the House of Representatives and the Senate together can now move toward sending legislation tackling our massive spending challenges to the president.
This is what Washington calls "regular order," meaning Congress honors the laws that require it to pass such legislation.
This is highly preferable to a "grand bargain" that foists secret deals on the taxpayers. After all, the last grand bargain resulted in ... the sequester.
-Alison Fraser is director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in USA Today.