On cuts, Washington throws a tantrum

Budget cut debate: Winners and losers

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Story highlights

  • Alex Castellanos: Threat of mandatory cuts shows D.C. elites toying with nation's fate
  • He says inability to make hard spending choices is equivalent of holding breath till turning blue
  • He says Americans have lived with less since recession; why can't government?
  • Castellanos: Both parties playing contemptible game; Obama must make government tighten belt

As the clock ticks toward those mandatory budget cuts that could arrive on March 1, those listening to the news would think an asteroid is about to hit planet Earth.

Our Defense Department tells us our Defense Department can't be cut or the world will end.

Our first responders tell us our first responders can't be cut or the world will end.

Our National Park Service tells us our National Park Service can't be cut or the world will end.

Our national parks were created to preserve nature, undisturbed by man. Now we are told that if we leave nature untouched, it will perish. When did the essential ingredients of biological existence become oxygen, water, sunlight and federal funding? Apparently, the Grand Canyon will cease to be a hole in the ground if the National Park Service loses a few cents of every dollar it has been given.

Alex Castellanos

But let's set aside the indispensability of man to nature, for a moment, to concentrate on a conflict of interest.

Why would we expect any public servant to tell us his or her work is suddenly less vital to our nation? Do we believe any government agency would confess that it could do with a single tax dollar less?

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Even if the federal government tapped into Solomon's Mines, awash with riches, would they say, "We were preparing to set our extra cash on fire but thank heavens you are here and have some use for it! Please cut our budget!" Even then, we know, Washington could not imagine itself less important or in need.

So why are we allowing ourselves to be blackmailed with our own money by those we've employed to serve us?

Washington is throwing a tantrum. It is threatening to hold its breath until it turns blue unless it gets what it wants. Washington is a study in juvenile petulance. If at any time it has demonstrated a childish need for discipline, this moment is it.

The American people have learned to do with less in the past six years. Less after they pay higher taxes. Less after they pay more for gas. Less after they lose their jobs or portion out smaller paychecks. Less after their homes shrink into debt. Less after their businesses fail.

But there is another economy, distant from theirs. And it is growing. Washington's economy has learned to do with more.

Under Republican and Democratic presidents, the federal budget has grown by $1.7 trillion dollars over the past decade. Washington now has the third largest concentration of high-income households of any metropolitan area in America. A little over a year ago, Washington surpassed Silicon Valley for the highest average income in the country.

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Today, it is Washington's elites, not just Wall Street's, who make news flying to golf vacations in Florida and skiing trips in Aspen, enjoying haute cuisine at Washington's tony Minibar. During his tenure at Citigroup from 2006 to 2008, our new treasury secretary, Jack Lew, took a nearly $1 million bonus a day before the company took a taxpayer-funded bailout. He also invested $56,000 in a fund, headquartered in a Cayman Islands building, that Obama once called "the largest tax scam in the world."

Horace Greeley might urge, "Go east, young man." There is gold in Washington's hills.

What might a real leader, a president, do at this point?

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He might say, "Under these difficult circumstances, let's ask government to tighten its belt 2%, since Americans have had to tighten theirs. Let's remember whom we are here to serve. Let's lead by example, do our jobs more efficiently and make these cuts as painless as possible."

We hear nothing like that from this White House.

Instead, Barack Obama directs his lieutenants to echo his threats against the people who pay their salaries. Unless Congress expands the instruments of redistribution he finds necessary to ensure his dream of equality, he promises that the sequester deal it agreed to in 2011 will rain down in "harsh, arbitrary cuts" that would "devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research ... slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs."

These words come from our own president. As Bob Woodward reports, Obama originated this particular bit of Washington lunacy now known as the sequester but the blame for this mess can be laid at Republican and Democratic feet.

Both parties agreed to this contemptible game where Washington holds a gun to America's head as they dare each other to pull the trigger. And we, the American people, permit it. What won't we tolerate if we sheepishly allow this?

We should mark this moment, when tantrums became threats and our leaders surrendered the pretense they were serving us.

Then let's sing, "Washington, the Beautiful" because whatever America once was, Washington is.

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