A bitter upside to sequestration

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Americans generally agree that "government spending" must be reined in, that it's excessive, that it's gone too far. Ask them which programs they want to cut, however, and the abstraction of "the government" falls away and people start seeing the institution that pays Medicare, conducts food safety inspections, helps repair communities after disasters--the list goes on.

Of course, excesses occur and it's also clear that mandatory spending may be on an unsustainable path. But it's telling that in a Feb. 22 poll by the Pew Research Center, "for 18 of 19 programs tested, majorities want either to increase spending or maintain it at current levels."

Only "aid to the world's needy" found about as many Americans arguing for a decrease rather than an increase or the status quo. Foreign aid consumes about 1 percent of the federal budget. We could shut it off entirely tomorrow with no effect on our long-term financial outlook (although at the expense of greater global instability).

In a few days, Congress is likely to let across-the-board cuts of $85 billion take place over the remainder of the fiscal year. It's clear that the politicians who have got us to this point are out of step with the wishes of the majority of Americans, who want air traffic controllers on the job, the Border Patrol agents at their patrols and their environment protected by federal oversight.

We're headed for an artificially created crisis that will have real-world consequences. If there's a bright side to it, it may be that after seeing firsthand the effects of what adherence to ideology over pragmatic governance does, people will learn to stop hating the federal government even in the abstract. - Dave