It is known as the Washington Monument strategy. Turf-protecting government executives and bureaucrats go out of their way to make spending cuts as painful as possible for as many people as possible. By applying any cuts to the very things the public benefits from most, bureaucratic infighters believe they can convince the public that every penny that goes into government is necessary.
Hence the name: If you use budget cuts as an excuse to shut down the Washington Monument, then every tourist who comes to the nation's capitol will be reminded of what a terrible deed it is to cut government spending.
President Obama cannot shut down Washington Monument at the moment because it has been closed for repair work ever since the 2011 D.C. earthquake. But if it were open, the monument would be the first thing Obama would be threatening to shut down due to the impending budget sequestration.
To paraphrase a witty letter published recently by Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., the cost of freedom and prosperity is always exactly whatever the current federal budget happens to be. In that spirit, Obama's Cabinet officials were busy at work late last week, making miniscule cuts to their departmental budgets appear to be signs of the end-times. Somehow, a 2.4 percent year-over-year reduction in non-defense discretionary spending has them talking about hundreds of thousands of government layoffs and massive cuts to federal employees' pay.
The total year-over-year reduction in non-defense discretionary spending will be only $15 billion from a budget of $615 billion. And not counting the diminishing spending on the Afghan War, the Pentagon's budget will actually increase year-over-year in every single year of the next decade except one. Meanwhile, mandatory spending on entitlements continues to grow apace, exempt from sequestration cuts. In short, there are no real spending cuts occurring -- spending will go up, just a bit more slowly than expected in earlier budget projections.
As Washington Examiner Executive Editor Mark Tapscott notes in these pages today, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is threatening to make travelers suffer multihour waits in airport lines and to shut some airports down on a rolling basis. But his department budget actually increases year-over-year between 2012 and 2013 under the sequester -- from $72.6 billion to $73.2 billion.
How bad will the sequester really be? The stock market, far from buying the horror story, is flirting with new records. And if Washington metro area homebuyers are expecting sequester-mageddon from cuts that disproportionally hit this region, they have a funny way of showing it. Home prices in the area are at their highest point since Obama took office, according to the Case-Shiller housing index. Inventory in the District and its surrounding suburbs is now at a 15-year low, and sale prices were up in January by nearly 11 percent year-over-year.
Will this Washington Monument strategy work? Only if the media allow it to happen. Right now, the supposedly beleaguered bureaucrats are shedding crocodile tears over the inconvenience they are about to cause the public. But later this year, when they spend taxpayers' money to travel to unnecessary conferences and to pleasant locations to announce new initiatives, we will be watching.
When they announce new research grants for dubious studies and new government loans to dodgy clean energy companies, we will remind readers of all the pain they are predicting right now.
And we hope that other television, radio and print journalists will do the same.