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Women and Firemen First: 5 Ideas for Sequestration Cuts

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Leading up to the March 1 deadline, the White House and President Obama's cabinet have filled the press with dire warnings of the mayhem that will result if the budget sequester goes into effect.   As usual, his cronies in the Main-Stream Media are helping him spread the panic.

Never mind that the President himself proposed sequestration as a backup plan to get Congress to raise the debt ceiling in 2011.   The Administration assures us that these across-the-board budget "cuts" (which aren't really cuts at all, but merely reduced levels of spending increases) will cause mayhem and prevent the government from providing essential services.

In early 2011, the Executive Branch had maxed out its credit cards and the Republicans in Congress wouldn't raise the debt limit, supposedly in the name of fiscal responsibility.   Eventually, a compromise was reached: the debt ceiling was raised, but a bipartisan "Super Congress" would be formed to develop recommendations for reducing the government's rate of growth in the future.   These recommendations would be submitted to Congress for approval without amendments or delays, and everything would be fine.   But just in case something went wrong, a schedule was adopted that imposed across-the-board limits on the rate of growth of federal spending from Fiscal Year 2013 to Fiscal Year 2021 (the "sequester").  

Unfortunately, Congress did not approve the Super Congress's plan, and after two extensions, it's finally time for the sequester to kick in.   As a result, the skillful political compromise of yesteryear has become an American nightmare, and the Administration is screaming bloody murder.

In order to get around the spending limits, President Obama resorted to a time-honored technique: the "Firemen-First" principle.   In fact, this tactic is so old, it was first identified by Charles Peters of the Washington Monthly back in 1976.   As Ivan Eland explains it, the Firemen-First principle works like this:

When agencies smell budget cuts in the air, they threaten to cut their most essential, popular, or politically defensible programs first - for example, money for fighting fires - to dissuade politicians from cutting their budgets.   The military is no exception.

Therefore, as a public service, the following suggestions are offered as starting points to help the President find real cuts that won't drag America into the abyss.

1.   Roll back the unmanned aerial vehicle program (a.k.a. "drones")

Do we really need that new drone base in Niger?    Aren't the ones we already have in Ethiopia and Djibouti enough, or do we really have to threaten every square inch of the African continent?   And while we're at it, maybe we could stop the drone strikes in Pakistan, too.   Obviously, the President won't consider it a benefit to save the lives of dozens of women and children, and stop wounding literally hundreds of innocent civilians.   After all, those foreigners don't represent a cost to his Administration.   But with the money saved from ending the drone strikes, maybe we could afford to deploy that second aircraft-carrier group to the Middle East, after all.

Then there are all the drones the federal government plans to roll out here in the U.S.   According to the President, "We respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside of the United States. The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States, in part because our capacity, for example, to capture terrorists in the United States are very different than in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan."   Of course, we will never know what those safeguards are, because that's a state secret.   Maybe the best safeguard would be to stop buying them in the first place.

Oh, sure, the Unmanned Systems Caucus will complain about their loss of untold billions and billions of dollars in contracts.   And a few Medal of Valor contenders in Nevada will have to be retrained to do something worthwhile.   But with sequestration, there just isn't as much pork in the barrel these days, so we're all going to have to live lower on the hog.

2.   Roll back the American world empire

Now, about that second carrier group the Administration wants to deploy to the Middle East: why?   Aren't we ending the war in Afghanistan, and isn't the war in Iraq already over?   So, if one carrier group was enough to fight both those wars, why do we need to deploy a second one now?

For that matter, why do we need to leave 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan after 2014, if, as the President says, "by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over?"    Is he going to pose for photos on the un-deployed aircraft carrier like President Bush did when we won the Iraq war, back in 2008?    Also, why do we still have 3,000-4,000 soldiers in Iraq, since we won that war already?

When NATO attacked Libya, the U.S. launched 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles on the very first day, despite the fact that Moammar Ghaddafi had been cooperating with us on nuclear weapons.   Meanwhile, Great Britain had less than half that many Tomahawks in its entire inventory.   The cost of these missiles is reported to be $1.41 million each.   That's pretty amazing, since the cost of cruise missiles was said to be between $1.3 million and $1.5 million when President Clinton launched 12 of them against Iraq in 1993.   Apparently, economies of scale have entirely offset inflation over the past 10 years.   But either way, it appears that we might be able to save a buck or two if we simply reduce our inventories to a level consistent with, say, the ability to destroy Mali in a single day.   And by the way, toppling Ghaddafi paved the way for al Qaeda to take over.

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Alan Pyeatt is an award-winning Civil Engineer who lives in Monrovia, California. He also enjoys music, organic gardening, economics, and audio/video production.
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