by Whitney Pitcher
In the Fall 2008, then Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich had to make cuts to attempt to balance the state’s budget. In doing so, Blagojevich decided to close numerous state parks and historic sites:
Gov. Rod Blagojevich is closing the parks and historic sites to help balance the state budget. Never mind that some of the parks he is closing actually make money. Never mind that all of them bring in substantial tourist revenues that create and support jobs in nearby towns. Never mind that millions of visitors each year enjoy our Illinois parks.
Never mind that people all across America are getting ready to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday on February 12th of next year. Anyone planning to visit the Lincoln Log Cabin on Goosenest Prairie near Charleston, the last home of Lincoln’s parents, or the Vandalia Statehouse, where Lincoln served as a state legislator, will be locked out, too. Those potential visitors will have to find something else to do – along with the 450 employees whose jobs are being axed because of Blagojevich’s budget cuts.
In addition to the park closing and job cuts (mostly in southern and central Illinois), Blagojevich closed a prison in central Illinois. At the time, southern Illinois Republican state senator, Dave Luechtefeld said, “I know he’s trying to make people feel the pain.” In short, rather than making better, prioritized cuts, Blagojevich made cuts that hurt people furthest away from his Chicago most.
President Obama is using the same political tactic today with the sequester. In the past, President Obama has criticized Republicans for wanting to use a hatchet to cut spending while he wants to use a scalpel. Meanwhile, the President is currently making small paper cuts and adding salt to the wounds.
The White House is closed for tours, but open for business. Additionally, much like Governor Blagojevich, under President Obama, the National Park Service is making oddly prioritized cuts, as Anne Sorock at Legal Insurrection writes:
Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk’s handling of the situation: freeze permanent hires, hire fewer seasonal employees, and delay plowing entrances to the park by two weeks, resulting in late openings. In response to Wenk’s decision, local business owners that would be hurt by the delayed opening (estimated loss at $250,000) banded together via the chambers of congress to provide equipment and personnel to facilitate plowing, reviewed in detail by Bill Croke at the American Spectator.
Yet what has been lost in this story is Wenk’s inability to make a different type of cut.
I spoke with a resident of Jackson, WY, a gateway community to Yellowstone, who mentioned the recent construction of a network of bike paths that go up into the park, each path afforded bridges to cross rivers. The use of park rangers to put forth environmental evangelization — is there room for a cut there, at least in order to save the communities $250,000 in lost business?
To be sure, both parties are responsible for the sequester happening at all and for the massive spending that was the impetus for such legislation. A Republican majority House passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 that eventually triggered sequestration, and the Democratically controlled Senate and White House supported it too. However, the President has “flexibility” in how those cuts are made through apportionment, transfer authority, and reprogramming, which allow for agencies to shift money between accounts. For example, the Department of Interior could shift money into the National Park Service “account” or within that “account” to re-prioritize funding. The American people have had to engage in such budget re-prioritization when the “fiscal cliff” deal allowed the payroll tax holiday to expire. Why can’t the federal government do the same? This tax holiday expiration is the equivalent of a 2% pay cut for most people, which interestingly, is the same percentage of cuts present in the first several months of the sequester.
If you look at the massiveness of federal spending, the spending cuts in the sequester are minimal. In 2013, the cuts actually amount to $44 billion, not the $85 billion usually reported. Additionally, FY2013 spending will ultimately be $20 billion higher than FY2012. The only cuts being made are those paper cuts affecting tourists to the White House and national parks and others throughout the country, like the non-government employee air traffic controllers whose towers will closed later this year. If the president truly wants to get surgical with his budgetary analogies, why is he augmenting the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian Authority while he is giving paper cuts to Americans? The answer is simple. The sequester is a not a budgetary tool; it is solely a myopic divisive political tool that the President is modeling a fellow Illinois corruptocrat.