President’s Dog Airlifted at Enormous Expense to Taxpayers? Debunking Claims Made Against Budget Cuts

by Hans Bader on August 13, 2013

in Politics as Usual, Zeitgeist

In response to the automatic budget cuts contained in the sequester, President Obama canceled public tours of the White House, citing inadequate funds.  But recently, he had his dog airlifted to Obama’s holiday home.  As the Associated Press notes, “Bo, the Obama family’s beloved dog, arrived for the holiday in a MV-22 Osprey aircraft.  He will enjoy an eight-day holiday with plenty of manicured grass to run around in. The Obama’s dog has arrived for the family’s annual vacation in style, jetting in on a state-of-the-art aircraft with his own contingent of security agents.” Such an enormous expense seems to be in tension with White House claims of austerity.  “Obviously, when you’re president of the United States, you carry a little baggage when you travel,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.  (The news site MSN also notes the First Dog “travels with his own motorcade“).  It’s not certain the primary purpose of the airlift was to transport the president’s dog, as Ed Morrisey notes; MSN says it may also have carried additional White House staff not responsible for handling or transporting the dog.

If the dog was the flight’s primary purpose, then Obama’s actions were a classic example of the so-called “Washington Monument” strategy used by government officials to discourage budget cuts and create a backlash against lawmakers who push for them. The Washington Monument strategy refers to the bureaucratic practice of threatening to close down the most popular and vital programs in response to prospective budget cuts; it gets its name from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which always threatens it will have to close the Washington Monument if its budget is cut.  When this strategy is actually carried out, it punishes the public for budget cuts by cutting the most visible government services, such as tours of the Washington Monument, but preserves spending on things that benefit the bureaucracy, high-ranking officials and powerful interest groups.

As George Mason University’s David Bernstein observes, “Canceling the White House tours was supposed to be something of a ‘twofer’ for the White House. Not only was it supposed to spark public outrage over the sequester from disappointed tourists, it was meant to put pressure on Congress. . .What surprises me is that even though the strategy failed miserably, the White House not only hasn’t quietly (or otherwise) reopened the tours, it doesn’t even seem to care to pretend that the ostensible rationale for the closure, devastating cuts to the White House budget, was real.”

The Washington Post notes alarmist predictions about the sequester turned out to be false.  In a July 23 story, it observed that “Defense firms” are “weathering budget cuts more easily than expected. Contractors seem pleasantly surprised that the automatic spending cuts are not hurting nearly as much as the industry’s lobbying arm warned they would in the months leading up to the sequester that took effect in March. Lockheed Martin had predicted that sequestration would wipe out $825 million in revenue this year, but it no longer expects such a big hit. In fact, the company said, profit will be higher than initially projected.”

The sequester has been economically beneficial in a number of ways.  Earlier, the automatic budget cuts in the sequestration prevented an agency that has previously wiped out jobs from destroying large amounts of valuable computer equipment.

The sequestration’s automatic budget cuts will help the economy in the long run, as we previously pointed out, citing the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Economists at Wells Fargo say that the sequester will be economically helpful in the long term.   Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron argues the “sequester will be good for the economy” even in the short run.

In its unsuccessful attempt to repeal the sequester’s budget cuts, the Obama administration exaggerated the sequester’s short-run impact (such as falsely claiming it would result in budget cuts at a an agency that had already closed its doors.) Obama administration officials claimed that there was little room for cuts in the federal budget. But they were obviously wrong. A June 30 Washington Post story provides additional evidence, pointing out that while “they said the sequester would be scary. Mostly, they were wrong.” “Before ‘sequestration’ took effect, the Obama administration issued specific — and alarming — predictions about what it would bring. There would be one-hour waits at airport security. Four-hour waits at border crossings. Prison guards would be furloughed for 12 days. FBI agents, up to 14. But none of those things happened.” All of these alarmist predictions by the Obama administration were false.

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