The Budget Control Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2011 to end a debt ceiling standoff, brought “sequester” into the American vocabulary by guaranteeing billions of dollars in automatic federal budget cuts if a congressional supercommittee couldn’t reach a bipartisan deal on spending reductions. The idea was to force Democrats and Republicans to strike a compromise by imposing an unimaginably horrific, Draconian alternative if they failed.
Yet fail they did, thus compelling elected officials to make catastrophic predictions about the sequester to frighten the public and make their political opponents flinch.
President Obama, who tried to pressure Republicans into raising taxes to avert the discretionary budget cuts, warned that the sequester would “add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., claimed Republicans would rather “sacrifice 750,000 American jobs rather than ask multimillionaires to pay a penny more.” At one point, Sen. Reid said “sequestration already has cut 1.6 million jobs.”
“Let me define sequestration for you: Job losses in your state,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
But it wasn’t just Democrats spreading doom and gloom. Republicans used their fair share of scare tactics, as well.
Former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell warned that sacrificing “123,000 military jobs in Virginia and hundreds of thousands around the country because Congress can’t set priorities and the Senate won’t take up a budget” was “just the wrong thing for America.”
“If your administration fails to do its job to responsibly manage the budget,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott wrote in a letter to President Obama, “thousands of Floridians will lose their jobs under sequestration.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said job losses ultimately would be one of the catalysts that would fix the disconnect between the Democrats and the Republicans, while Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said cuts were “destroying the Pentagon.”
As everyone knows, federal laws do exactly what lawmakers say they’ll do. So panic swept the land. And hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their jobs. The economic apocalypse crushed the recovery. You remember as much, don’t you?
In the aftermath of the cataclysm, the Government Accountability Office decided it would be appropriate to properly document the devastation. An audit was ordered to count all the jobs lost to $85.3 billion in spending cuts. And the GAO determined this month that sequestration led to the layoff of exactly ... wait for it ...
One federal worker.
Across 23 federal agencies. A single employee at the U.S. Parole Commission.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is among a growing number of Republicans looking for answers. He says that although the virtual lack of job cuts “is good news for federal employees and other workers, it is devastating to the credibility of Washington politicians and administration officials who spent months — and millions of dollars — engaging in a coordinated multi-agency Cabinet-level public relations campaign to scare the American people.”
During this entire process, leaders on both sides of the aisle effectively argued that unlimited, uncontrolled and ever-increasing government spending is what drives our economy, but the opposite holds true. The audit determined that the sequester did exactly what it was supposed to do: cause agencies to cut back on things such as overtime, travel and bonuses, as well as new hires. In short, agencies prioritized. And it worked.
“The facts seem to say the experts overestimated sequestration’s impact by between 99,999 and 1,599,999 jobs, according to two frequently cited estimates by Goldman Sachs and the Congressional Budget Office,” Sen. Coburn said.
The GAO reported some 770,000 workers were furloughed by seven agencies for between one and seven days, a step countless private-sector employers have taken. And scores of private-sector contractors, particularly those who serve military installations, were pinched. But layoffs of federal workers? Just one. For all we know, that worker has since been rehired.
Washington is too big, too slow, too inefficient and already takes too much of our money — taxes that make the already-tough fiscal choices of Americans even tougher. Our leaders should have to live under the same pressures. Instead, they’re sending the national debt streaking toward $18 trillion.
If anything, the sequester clearly didn’t cut enough.