How foolish is managing the federal budget through the across-the-board “sequestration” process? The federal judicial system provides a good illustration of the chaotic lunacy that prevails when the President and Members of Congress fail to do their jobs and enact thoughtful, considered budgets.
From a budgeting standpoint, the judiciary is unique. Unlike other agencies and entities, it doesn’t operate grant programs or distribute benefit checks or buy advertising to discourage drunk driving or promulgate regulations. Instead, it exists solely to resolve disputes and try those accused of federal crimes. Its budget is spent largely on people — on judges and their law clerks, bailiffs and court reporters, docket clerks and security personnel — who make the system function smoothly.
Sequestration will require $350 million in cuts to the federal judicial system. Because federal judges are appointed for life and will be paid regardless of how fiscally irresponsible the President and Congress may be, the cuts that sequestration brings will fall disproportionately on the other people who are part of the process. As a result, court security operations will be impaired, federal oversight of those free on bond prior to trial and those paroled from federal prisons will be reduced, and jury trials and bankruptcy proceedings will be delayed due to lack of funds — among other consequences.
A capable court system is one of the bedrock requirements of a free, well-ordered society. The role of federal courts has become increasingly important as new regulations are produced and challenged, as new federal crimes are created, and as courts are increasingly viewed as the ultimate arbiter of all manner of disputes. Why, then, should federal courts be subject to the same across-the-board budgeting treatment as federal agencies and programs whose purpose is much less fundamental to the proper functioning of government and society?
The President and Congress need to start doing their jobs.
It’s hard to believe — but then again, maybe it’s not so hard to believe. Our divided, dysfunctional government was unable to reach agreement, so $85 billion in “automatic” sequestration cuts occurred yesterday, after President Obama signed an executive order putting them into effect.
President Obama called the cuts “dumb” and “arbitrary.” He’s right — and in fact, you could use even stronger terms, like imbecilic and ludicrous. So why did the President and the White House play a central role in devising the idiotic “sequestration” concept to begin with, and why wasn’t he able to do what was necessary to avoid the cuts from taking effect? The President, of course, immediately blamed congressional Republicans for their intransigence and refusal to consider additional tax increases, and maybe the public will decide that the Republicans should be the whipping boys this time, as they have been in the past. At some point, however, I think most people will come to accept that some of the blame must fall upon the President. Rather than working steadily toward a solution, he seems to enjoy playing chicken, waiting until the deadline looms immediately ahead, and then trying to work out a last-minute deal when he thinks the pressure is all on the other side. This time, obviously, his tactic didn’t work, and the chickens have come home to roost.
I’m blaming everyone for this fiasco — Democrats and Republicans, President and Congress — but I also think the President needs to be held accountable by the media and the public. It’s incredibly stupid to make blunderbuss cuts when some programs should be eliminated and other programs should be left untouched. I’m convinced that, if the President and members of both parties simply did their jobs, they could identify $85 billion in rational cuts to replace the “automatic” sequestration cuts. The President’s inability to lead the way to a reasonable solution so that we don’t lurch from budget crisis to budget crisis falls on his shoulders.
It’s another embarrassing day for our government.