One of the reasons why Government spending is so hard to cut is because people do actually rely on it for one reason or another. Whether it occurs through transfer payments (i.e. benefits) or funding someone’s job, Government spending does actually make a difference in people’s lives.
One can see this in the implementation of the sequester. I recently had the honor and privilege of working in a federal public defender’s office. Those offices are getting hosed right now under the sequester. In fact, many Federal Defender offices are getting hit up to six times harder than their prosecution counterparts. The head of one Ohio Federal Defender’s Office fired himself to save his staff. This is happening in Federal Defender’s offices around the country, including the Boston office that will be representing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
These cuts are raising Sixth Amendment Gideon issues, as federal public defense attorneys now have even less time to work on their client’s cases. While case loads in the federal system are not as bad as they are in the state system, these cuts nonetheless damage the quality of representation that federal criminal defendants receive. In other words, calls go unanswered, less motions get filed, and the motions that are filed contain less legal arguments, Such omissions may make the difference between winning or losing a client’s case. In federal court, that usually means they end up in prison for a long time, as Congress still loves their mandatory minimums, United States v. Booker notwithstanding.
Elsewhere, there’s controversy over the Chained CPI proposal for Social Security. According to Robert G. Romasco, President of the AARP, it would result in substantial cuts for beneficiaries:
Under a chained CPI, older veterans would be hurt twice, as both Social Security and veterans’ benefits would be cut. So much for the administration’s claim to protect the vulnerable. Permanently disabled veterans who started receiving disability benefits from the Veterans Administration at age 30 would see their benefits cut by more than $1,400 a year at age 45, $2,300 at age 55, and $3,200 a year at age 65.
Of course, these cuts are kind of the point when you’re cutting Government spending. The largest parts of the federal budget are military spending, social security, and healthcare spending. There’s no magic button we can press to cut spending in these places without hurting someone. Cutting defense spending, even by only a few million dollars, means a decent number of people are out of a job. Cutting Social Security benefits means people on fixed incomes have to make do with less.
This isn’t to say there isn’t genuine “waste” in Government. A recent example is the Federal Government spending $890,000 in bank fees for empty bank accounts. Years back, the Pentagon spent $100 million on unused airline tickets for which it never sought refunds. The Pentagon in particular is notorious for wasteful spending projects, such as $436 hammers, $600 toilet seats, and $7,622 coffee brewers. Or how about spending $100,000 for a 2011 workshop on interstellar space travel that included a session entitled “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” According to the link, “the session probed how Christian theology would apply in the event of the discovery of aliens.” I feel safer already.
Nonetheless, even if we got rid of much of this waste, we’d still have to make substantive cuts to make a dent in the federal budget. Even if we had a balanced approach of 50/50 spending and tax increases on a 10-year plan to reduce to the deficit back to healthy levels, it would still involve cutting a lot of people’s livelihoods. No matter where you cut from, somebody’s either losing their benefits or losing their job. and that’s why it’s so hard to cut Government spending, even if doing so is the overall right thing to do.