It seems the only law Congress can get its head around these days is Murphy’s. You know, the one that states that: “If anything can go wrong, it will!”
Consider: we’ve just weathered the first few days of the sequester, the $85 billion “self-inflicted wound” (in President Obama’s words) that Washington was supposed to have avoided at all costs but did not because there wasn’t a large enough quorum of adults in the Capitol capable of rising above their picayune pettifoggeries.
All the dire predictions of economic Armageddon are now being downplayed, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling the across-the-board spending cuts “modest” and House Speaker John Boehner calling them “silly.”
Boehner added: “I don’t think anyone quite understands how the sequester is really going to work.”
Regardless, these austere budgetary contractions couldn’t have come at a worse time.
No matter how silly and non-understandable sequester has become in the newly muted language of its perpetrators – “Sorry, officer, tee-hee, I didn’t know the gun was loaded, but, anyway, it’s a very, very small bullet” – even the most brazen of minimizers can’t deny that this act of running around with the safety off won’t cause the country some real pain.
And just when things were starting to look up. Really.
Good Economic News Was Coming
Don’t take my word for it. Here are some snippets from The Wall Street Journal on March 1, the day the cuts took hold:
- “Americans late last year took on more debt for the first time since the throes of the recession, a sign consumers are feeling more comfortable borrowing after years of cutting debt to fix their finances.”
- “Freddie Mac, buoyed by the housing market’s rebound and an improving economy, reported an $11 billion annual profit for 2012 on Thursday – its largest ever annual gain and first profitable year since 2006.”
- “Among the positive signals for the economy, consumer spending advanced at a seasonally adjusted 2.1 percent rate, a more robust gain than in the third quarter . . .”
- “The housing market, including spending on home improvements, advanced 17.5 percent in the fourth quarter, and business spending grew 9.7 percent.”
- “Households spent money, business invested, and the housing market surged . . . indicat[ing] the core of the economy was in good shape.”
- “Blue chips charged to within striking distance of their record.”
That’s a lot of positive press – and in just one day – distilled from the Journal’s normally half-empty cup of journalistic ethos.
Congress Can’t Handle Good News
But then, there’s always Murphy’s Law, the lodestar that always seems to pull Congress into its maw.
Even the sequester minimizers — who once screamed “wolf” but recently bleated “lamb” — agree that the sequester could slash 750,000 jobs if not repealed. That certainly has to count as “anything that can go wrong.”
Wrong: the Federal Aviation Authority stands to lose $600 million in funding over the next six months, and may have to furlough air traffic controllers in as many as half of the nation’s airports.
Wrong: U.S. Navy officials said they would begin planning furloughs for civilian employees and delays to maintenance contracts.
The National Science Foundation expects to cut 1,000 research grants. The National Park Service may have to close some areas to the public. Education, child care, health services, emergency responders — all will take a hit.
Wrong, wrong and more wrong.
More Digging to Come
America has been trying to dig itself out of the economic doldrums for half a decade now. Many believe that the federal government hasn’t done enough to help.
And just when it appears we’re getting back to level ground, our leaders in Washington have decided to give us exactly what we don’t need: more shovels so that we can dig ourselves a little deeper.
Because in our nation’s capital, Murphy’s Law is the only one that gets passed.
Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it seven years ago, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering college and professional sports, which are the fantasy worlds of finance. His work has been published by the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated and Sporting News, among others. His interest in sports has waned some, but his interest in never reaching for his wallet is as passionate as ever. Bill can be reached at email@example.com.