Americans Yawn At Budget Cut Hype

President Barack Obama is pulling out all the stops to warn just what could happen if automatic budget cuts kick in. Americans are reacting with a collective yawn.

They know the drill: Obama raises the alarm, Democrats and Republicans accuse each other of holding a deal hostage, there's a lot of yelling on cable news, and then finally, when everyone has made their points, a deal is struck and the day is saved.

Maybe not this time. Two days before $85 billion in cuts are set to hit federal programs with all the precision of a wrecking ball, there are no signs that a deal is imminent. Even the White House conceded Wednesday that efforts to avoid the cuts were unlikely to succeed before they kick in on Friday.

Still, for all the grim predictions, Americans seem to be flipping the channel to something a little less, well, boring. They wonder, haven't we been here before?

It's like deja vu, says Patrick Naylon, who runs an audiovisual firm in San Francisco: "The same stuff, over and over again."

Texas native Corby Biddle, 53, isn't losing sleep over the cuts. No way the government will let vital services collapse, he said as he visited tourist attractions in downtown Atlanta.

"It will get resolved. They will kick the can down the road," Biddle said.

Usually, that's exactly what happens. Even the cuts behind the current panic were originally supposed to kick in on Jan. 1 part of the fiscal-cliff combo of spending cuts and tax hikes that economists warned could nudge the nation back into recession. For all the high drama, lawmakers finally acted on New Year's Day, compromising on taxes and punting the spending cuts to March 1.

And the blunt instrument known as the "sequester" that's set to deliver the cuts? That too was the progeny of another moment of government-by-brinksmanship, a concession that in 2011 made possible the grand bargain that saved the U.S. from a first-ever default on its debt.

Even if the current cuts go through, the impact won't be immediate. Federal workers would be notified next week that they will have to take up to a day every week off without pay, but the furloughs won't start for a month due to notification requirements. That will give negotiators some breathing room to keep working on a deal.

But you can only cry wolf so many times before people just stop paying attention.

"I know you guys must get tired of it," Obama told a crowd in Virginia on Tuesday. "Didn't we just solve this thing? Now we've got another thing coming up?"

Three out of 4 Americans say they aren't following the spending cuts issue very closely, according to a Pew Research Center poll released this week. It's a significant drop from the nearly 4 in 10 who in December said they were closely following the fiscal-cliff debate.

Public data from Google's search engine shows that at its peak in December, the search term "fiscal cliff" was about 10 times as popular as "sequestration" has been in recent days. Even "debt ceiling," not a huge thriller for the web-surfing crowd, maxed out in July 2011 at about three times the searches the sequester is now getting.

"We're now approaching the next alleged deadline of doom. And voters, having been told previously that the world might end, found it did not in the past and are becoming more skeptical that it will in the future," said Peter Brown of the nonpartisan Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

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And let's face it: When it comes to policy issues that can really put an audience to sleep, "sequestration" is right up there with filibuster reform, chained CPI and carried interest.

For all the angst about layoffs, furloughs and slashes to government contracts, the markets don't seem to be rattled, either. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, after falling below 13,000 at the height of the fiscal cliff debacle, has been buoyant ever since, spending the last month hovering just below 14,000.

"I shrug my shoulders because I don't believe any of those severe cuts will go through," said Karen Jensen, a retired hospital administrator who stopped to talk in New York's Times Square. "Life goes on as it has before."

But if the Obama administration hasn't managed to convince Americans these spending cuts could be the real deal, it's not for lack of trying.

Each day the cuts grow nearer sees a new dire warning from the White House about another government function that will take a hit if they go into effect what White House chief of staff Denis McDonough has called a "devastating list of horribles." The White House has even compiled and circulated 51 reports  one for each state, plus the District of Columbia  showing how the cuts could harm local communities.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday that up to 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has warned that her agency will be forced to furlough 5,000 border patrol agents. Fewer air traffic controllers could mean 90-minute delays or longer in major cities, and visiting hours at all 398 national parks are likely to be cut, the administration has said.

"The president needs to stop campaigning, stop trying to scare the American people, stop trying to scare the states," Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana said this week after governors from both parties met with Obama behind closed doors. "Now's the time to cut spending. It can be done without jeopardizing the economy. It can be done without jeopardizing critical services."

The age-old Republican desire for a scaled-back federal government makes it clear why, on the one hand, the GOP isn't scrambling to avert the cuts especially when Obama insists on more tax revenues in any deal to turn them off. On the other hand, Obama is banking on polls that show if the cuts go through, Republicans are likely to bear most of the blame.

Both parties agree that if you're going to cut spending, an indiscriminate mechanism like the sequester is the wrong way to do it. After all, the whole point of the endeavor was to set in motion ramifications so unbearable that lawmakers would be forced to come together and hash out a better plan before the deadline.

Count James Ford of Louisville, Ky., among those still holding out hope.

"They'll come up with something to keep the thing going," he said. "They always do."

By: Josh Lederman
Associated Press

14 thoughts on “Americans Yawn At Budget Cut Hype

  1. Make a list of all tax loopholes so that taxpayers will know what is on the table. Congress must review each tax loophole and set priorities
    for eliminating them. Then tell all taxpayers how much money could be saved as a result. That is one simple way to reduce expenses. Is it not?

    How many tax loopholes are there? Thousand's? Wouldn't it be nice to know?

    Why are Republicans opposed to closing tax loopholes recommended by Democrats?


  2. They will only cut what they want to cut. After four years of this administration I suspect they will want to cut to inflict as much suffering as possible on the American people. This is a terrible way to run a choo-choo.

    1. Damn right. He wants a 1% raise for Government employees, because "They Earned It". No raises for the people who support these slugs, though.

    2. For most Federal employees, their compensation is up roughly 100% over 10 years. In the private sector, pay is down. The government produces zilch, and the private sector produces everything. Its a good thing the sheep are stupid, or the government employees would get sheared for a change.

      1. @ Chipper -

        Your remark about Federal employees is right on the money.

        Those Republican congressment and Senators have not produced anything. They are "sheep" and need to be "sheared."

        Eric Meyers, CPA

  3. There was that French guy, Voltaire, who, back in the 1700s , said " In gerneral the art of government consists of takinig as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other."

  4. These readers get it.

    DC is a bunch of useless screaming bureaucrats trying to prove that their existence matters.

  5. We are about to enter RADAO TIME. It's something like short form. RADA is short form for Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. RADAO is short form for Republican And Democrat And Obama. The dramatics of political art are about to go on display for the next week. The interesting thing is that all of the parties like to play. Something like Russian Roulette only with your taxpayer money. I love the american showbiz. Never a dull moment for us snow muttons as long as we have the 49th parallel. LOL

  6. Ah yes the same old game as they do here when they want to raise taxes. City government boldly announces in the newspaper that it will have to close the library and the city parks, the fire dept will have to work with reduced services, half the police force will be cut, garage pick up will be reduced and the water bill will double. Whether they get the tax increase or not these things never happen.

  7. I don't agree. If the cuts go into effect. there would be dramatic physical and psychological harm done to the economy. Unemployment and its chain effect into the number of house buyers, consumer spending, even in the army. The direct effect of these will resonate in the stock market.

  8. What a circus!!! I was a citizen about 40 years ago and left but am staggered at the mess you guys have allowed the USA government to make of that beautiful country. But the abuse just goes on and on and on and no-one has even tried to come up with a solution?? How many wake up calls do you need??

  9. Even if the cuts go into effect, the overall affect on the economy isn't likely to be all that dramatic. After all, the "cuts" aren't really cuts to spending are they? They are just minor reductions to planned increases in spending.

  10. Much like in a divorce, "both sides" are more or less equal of blame. Meanwhile the dazed sheep who get obsessed with this stuff don't realize that lost in all the theatrics is the fact that it's too late to fix it, do the math and the reality is clear. Do yourself and your family a favor and instead of spending several hours per week falling for the theatrics, do some calculations including unfunded liabilities going forward and plan accordingly.

  11. When I was a kid, I recall posters displayed by Gov't, something like "Remember, the Walls Have Ears", secretive Agents watching for citizens and others, selling out secrets to enemy agents, and threats of sabotage to t he country. Sabotage was a very serious charge in those days. Sabotage in those days included malicious disruption, conspire against, incapacitate, disrupt, etc.

    Does anyone make a comparison of the "Wartime Sabotage", to what the government is doing to itself these days ?

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