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Sequestration offers lesson, and stark choice

By Michael C. Carnuccio

Sequestration, getting by on just more than 97 percent of the current budget, has overwhelmed our federal government. This is a short list of the predicted gloom:

  • The Pentagon delayed deployment of the USS Harry Truman to key Middle East exercises as it reduced the aircraft carriers it has in the Gulf from two to one.
  • The Department of Homeland Security released illegal immigrants being held in immigration jails across the country.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development said about 125,000 Americans are at risk of becoming homeless and 100,000 formerly homeless people might be removed from emergency shelters or other housing arrangements.
  • Because of the mandatory cuts, as many as 750,000 low-income women and their children are at risk of losing food and baby formula from the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program, said the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit think tank.

How is it that our government has become so inefficient? Why must this be so painful to American taxpayers?

In 2013, the federal government will spend $3.6 trillion. The sequestration cuts $85.4 billion of budget authority, about 3 percent. The inability of the president and Congress to trim 3 percent from a $3.6 trillion budget argues for returning much power and decision making to the states, as our founders intended.

According to a report at libertyfound.org, administrative and compliance costs borne in Washington are between 15 cents to 35 cents on every dollar collected in federal taxes. After collecting $2.3 trillion in taxes in 2010, $564 billion was sent back to states for education, Medicaid and transportation. Savings from returning to states those responsibilities would cover the $85 billion sequestration on the lowest-end estimates.

These savings result from simply cutting the inefficiency of passing money through Washington before returning it to states. Sequestration solved.

But that should be just the beginning. Let sequestration be a lesson: Centralizing power in Washington has failed.

Federal laws, rules, and regulations constrain states and one-size-fits-all policies forced upon the states stifle competition and innovation. When the federal government nationalizes an issue, its failure dooms the entire country. In contrast, when states set policy, a failure in one state doesn’t affect the other states and can even spur reforms.

The national debt is $16 trillion and growing. It is unsustainable. The country faces a stark choice: raise taxes again or realign government spending.

Michael C. Carnuccio serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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