Steve Rose

Whatever happened to the end of the world?

Updated: 2013-08-24T23:24:45Z

By STEVE ROSE

Special to The Star

What happened to the end of the world that was supposed to occur when Congress slashed budgets across the board — except entitlements like Social Security and Medicaid — under sequestration’s automatic budget cuts?

Local U.S. attorneys say the end of the world is coming to Kansas and western Missouri as soon as next year. Are they right?

Remember how everyone, including the Department of Justice, which is over U.S. attorneys, screamed and cried? There were supposed to be furloughs and layoffs and cutbacks and all manner of dire consequences.

Instead of howls, we heard the deafening sounds of silence.

OK, there were some exceptions. The most notable was that when air traffic controllers were furloughed, planes were lined up on the tarmac and the public screamed loudly (and some congressmen got delayed as well.) Congress stepped in and exempted air traffic controllers from the budget cuts.

Oh, and the tours of the White House, as we all have heard by now, were suspended. This was a silly way for the president to try to make a point about the so-called pain of budget cuts.

There is a lesson here. Just like households or businesses, government can learn to do with less.

Agencies restructured, got creative, and presto: Furloughs were canceled. Layoffs were minimized. Government figured out how to deal with cutbacks and still get their work done.

Sequestration revealed there was fat in the bureaucracies, just like conservatives have been hollering for years and years.

While conservatives have apparently been vindicated, they have, at the same time, warned that their sacred cow — the Department of Defense — could not absorb its share of across-the-board cuts without imperiling our nation. Well, the U.S. Army is on its way to becoming smaller than at any time since before World War II. The United States, instead, will be protected by more sophisticated weaponry, including an extremely effective air defense. The across-the-board hits everyone, and DOD gets no pass. It is adjusting to the new realities.

I listened recently to the U.S. attorneys for Kansas and western Missouri plead their case that next year, when further budget cuts are made, law enforcement will greatly suffer, this time, really, truly leading to layoffs and furloughs that will stymie their ability to keep bad guys off the streets.

Maybe, just maybe, the U.S. attorneys are not crying wolf, and perhaps next year’s sacrifice would, indeed, be too much to bear.

They have my sympathetic ear. But only one ear. The other hears warnings that Department of Justice might be able to squeeze out another year of savings without causing great pain, thus sparing the U.S. attorneys. If they did it once, they could possibly do it again.

In any case, how could we ask for an exception for U.S. attorneys when we would not be granting an exception to almost anyone else, including the U.S. Army?

That is the one problem with this sequester business. Across-the-board cuts are an ugly way to bring down expenses.

If sequestration allowed us to pick and choose, sure, we’d all target something else besides public safety to seek cost savings. But maybe the equal opportunity slashing is a blessing in disguise. My suspicion is they’ll find a way.

In any case, the hatchet approach to cost savings is better than what we had before: no cuts at all, just a forever-growing government. Conservatives who truly believe in the magic of innovation under pressure should believe in that.

To reach Steve Rose, a longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to srose@kc.rr.com.

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