Obama: “Not much further we can cut …”

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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“Not much further we can cut”: In his remarks yesterday, President Obama defended his “balanced” approach to the deficit:

Last week, we reached an agreement that will make historic cuts to defense and domestic spending.  But there’s not much further we can cut in either of those categories.  What we need to do now is combine those spending cuts with two additional steps:  tax reform that will ask those who can afford it to pay their fair share and modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare. [E.A.]

1) So he’s not reluctantly agreeing to Medicare” adjustments” (e.g., raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67) that Republicans are insisting on. He’s affirmatively promoting Medicare cuts himself. Democratic candidates planning to run against Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan will be excited to hear this new message.

2) “Not much further we can cut” seems like a hanging curve ball, an open invitation for ongoing ridicule–the sort of naive assertion that might come easily to someone who had never worked in the federal government, who only realized after promoting his half-trillion-dollar public works-based stimulus plan that there was “no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” Or someone who doesn’t want to know. Or who wants to act as if he doesn’t know.

Here is the official list of federal job openings. They are still hiring. Sure, big enterprises keep hiring essential employees even in tough times. But these aren’t essential jobs. Many of them seem like the sort of job a private firm, in a financial crisis like the feds are in, would consolidate with another job or leave unfilled. (The first one that jumps out is the “Associate Administrator for Administration” at the Department of Transportation, which pays $119,554 to $179,700. It seems that this person will do administrative work to maintain the layer of bureaucracy that “coordinates” the DOTs research programs. The new hire will also give “advice and assistance in directing, coordinating, controlling” etc. this little fiefdom. You don’t have to be Peter Drucker to realize that this position does not have to exist.) 

Part of the problem, of course, is that since it is virtually impossible to fire an actual underperforming federal employee, conscientious administrators have to hire new people (or consultants) to actually do the work the unfireable employees aren’t doing. 

But there’s no sense, reading through this list, that the federal bureaucracy knows it is in crisis–a crisis that might one day cause a GS-12 or GS-15 somewhere in the D.C. metro area to actually lose his or her job in the sort of streamlining layoff private firms routinely go through. It’s almost as if the debt deal were really a conspiracy by Obama, Boehner and McConnell to preserve the value of D.C. real estate by ensuring that every federal bureaucrat stays employed. No administrator for administration left behind!

In any case, a politician who says “there’s not much further we can cut” is blundering into trouble. Don’t voters want a President who spends a year or two at least trying to wring the fat out of government before he jumps to the conclusion that he needs to extract more in taxes? …

Update: Ace notices something missing. …

Mickey Kaus