The idea that the sequester cuts, which actually amount to more like $44 billion than the $85 billion that is often bandied about, are somehow draconian, is ridiculous. Out of a $3.55 trillion federal budget–well, no, the federal government doesn’t have a budget, that is just an estimate of FY 2013 spending–$44 billion is a pittance.
So it is time to bring back my Big Mac analogy. In March 2011, during an earlier round of budget hysteria when the federal government was contemplating cutting spending by a mere $6 billion, I analogized that minimal cut to going on a diet by not eating an entire Big Mac meal. A Big Mac Extra Value meal consists of a Big Mac, a large order of french fries, and a medium soda. I calculated that cutting $6 billion out of the federal budget at that time would be equivalent to ordering a Big Mac Extra Value Meal and eating the entire Big Mac, drinking the entire medium-sized Coke, and eating 86 out of 87 french fries. If you took the 87th french fry and bit off two-thirds of it, leaving behind one-third of the last fry, that would equal the ostensibly horrific cut of $6 billion out of the federal budget.
So let’s do the math with the sequestration cuts. $44 billion equals one eightieth of the federal budget. A Big Mac extra value meal contains 1,320 calories. One eightieth of 1,320 is 16.5 calories. An average McDonald’s french fry has 6.5 calories. So now the arithmetic is simple: if we were to cut the equivalent of the sequestration dollars out of a Big Mac Extra Value Meal, we would eliminate 2 1/2 french fries.
So: we order a Big Mac Extra Value Meal, and we eat the Big Mac. We drink the medium Coke. We eat 84 out of 87 french fries. We take the 85th french fry and eat half of it. We place the other half back in the bag, along with two more uneaten french fries. And that is the “diet” that equals the sequestration cuts. Suffice it to say that we have a very long way to go before we have to start worrying about spending cuts being too deep.