Placing blame for the adverse consequences of sequestration where it belongs — a modest proposal

Yesterday, Steve suggested that congressional Republicans should prepare detailed budget cuts of their own, department-by-department, providing exact line items of what programs can be cut or delayed under a sequester. If House Republicans can get their act together to that extent, I second the motion.

Meanwhile, here’s another possible approach that isn’t inconsistent with Steve’s. When the public begins to feel the bite of the sequester, House Republicans should haul the relevant cabinet members and agency heads before the applicable Committee. Because the money available to the department or agency in question even after the sequester will exceed that available to them not long ago, the official in question should explain why services provided not long ago cannot be provided now.

The agency head presumably will say that the cuts are too indiscriminate. The question should then be whether the agency could provide better service if it had discretion to administer the cuts as it sees fit.

If the House has passed legislation granting that discretion, the agency head will be in a box. To agree that the added discretion would help is to admit that the Senate Democrats and President Obama should have supported the Republican legislation. To deny that the added discretion would help is to (1) admit to a low level of administrative skill and (2) contradict the earlier admission that the agency isn’t running properly because, at least in part, the cuts are too indiscriminate.

If an agency head insists that there is no way to maintain decent levels of service even with more flexibility, the question will remain how they managed to do so with a larger budget just a few years ago. In addition, if Republican members do their homework, they can ask about specific, sensible-souding alternatives for cost savings (per Steve’s point).

Assuming effective examination by House Republicans, it’s difficult to see the heads of agenices that are providing poor service coming out of these hearings looking good. And by extension, it’s difficult to see President Obama avoiding the impression (1) that he has placed incompetents in charge of key agencies and (2) that he isn’t doing all he could to avoid the adverse consequences of the sequester.

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