Begala: The Great Sequester Lie

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John Boehner, center, answers reporters' questions during a news conference about the fiscal sequestration in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 2013. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

In a column on the budget, to maintain credibility with Beltway elites, I am supposed to claim the impasse is both parties’ fault. It isn’t. The conventional wisdom is that Republicans won’t support any more tax increases and Democrats won’t support any more spending cuts. That’s half right.

House Democrats have proposed some sensible spending cuts: like doing away with the billions we spend subsidizing oil companies. With gas nearing $4 a gallon, does anyone really want to send taxpayers’ money to the welfare queens of ExxonMobil? House Dems would also enact the Buffett rule (I prefer “Romney rule”), ending the obscenity in the tax code that lets hedge-fund managers pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

Not to be outdone, Senate Democrats have proposed $110 billion in spending cuts and tax increases: again, reducing oil subsidies (though not as much as the House Dems), ending the deduction businesses take for moving jobs overseas and trimming the defense budget and farm subsidies.

Finally, the White House boasts of having eliminated 77 government programs, including 16 at the Department of Education, 10 at Health and Human Services, and 4 at Labor. The president’s budget calls for $30 billion in cuts to farm programs and $25 billion in savings from the post office.

The Republicans, for their part, did allow the Bush tax cuts to expire on income over $450,000, but they seem to have dug in their heels on the Romney rule and oil subsidies. They are blaming President Obama’s “failed leadership” for the sequester and arguing that it was the White House that first proposed the gun-to-the-head approach. As the kids say, whatevs. The Democrats have come to the table with spending cuts. Will the Republicans join them and support some tax increases? Um, no. “Just last month,” House Speaker John Boehner said, “The president got his higher taxes on the wealthy, and he’s already back for more.” True. But there is still some very low-hanging fruit on the revenue side. Republicans ought to at least embrace the Romney rule—if for no other reason than to punish Mitt for running such a lame campaign.

Meanwhile, some congressional Republicans are taking a break from complaining about government spending to complain about the lack of government spending. As Politico has reported, Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker is worried about cuts to the Army Corps of Engineers, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins is fretting over potential job losses at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and John McCain has continued his longstanding opposition to a sequester, bringing it home by telling his fellow Arizonans, “They make the Apache helicopter in Mesa, Arizona. If they cut back, it would have to be affected there.”

I would take it further. The new Tea Party senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, says, “I think we have to be prepared to go so far as to shut the government down if we don’t get some serious policies to stop the out-of-control spending to tackle the debt.” OK, let’s start by shutting down federal spending in Texas. Federal funds account for 32 percent of the Lone Star State’s budget. Oh, and how about Fort Hood? At 340 square miles, it is the biggest Army base in the free world and the largest single employer in Texas. All that federal spending must be sapping the souls of my fellow Texans. So let’s move Fort Hood to, oh, say, Nevada. Sen. Harry Reid actually believes in federal investments, and the Nevada desert might provide good terrain for Fort Hood’s tanks.

This could be fun. Oklahoma so hates Obama’s big spending that every single county in the state voted for Mitt Romney. Oklahoma has twice the percentage of federal employees than the U.S. average, and Okies get $1.35 back from Washington for each dollar they pay in taxes. So close the massive FAA center in Oklahoma City. Move it to Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district, where they love big government.

Two years ago I made a similar argument about Kentucky, calling on Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul to put the Bluegrass State in detox for its addiction to local pork. No such luck. But perhaps the principle can apply to the sequester: enforce it only in states whose elected representatives won’t support the taxes needed to fund the spending they want.

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