Are They Fools Or Just Acting Foolish?

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Fooled again. We thought the Washington politicians from both parties were just playing at being petty, irresponsible knuckleheads for the election. Turns out, they just might really be petty, irresponsible knuckleheads.

How else to account for the renewed spectacle inside the Beltway over the self-created crisis of the sequester (the “fiscal cliff” revisited).

Barring some last-minute outbreak of patriotic, adult deal making, on March 1, spending cuts totaling $85 billion annually will automatically take place — about half from domestic programs and about half from the military. Social Security, Medicare, veterans’ benefits and student loans will remain exempt from the automatic cuts.

The debilitating cuts stem from Congress’ effort to set up a scenario so mindless and damaging that they’d have to do the right thing and strike a deal.

Turns out, Congress over-estimated its own rationality.

Granted, the world won’t end if the cuts take effect — although the cuts will likely cost the sickly economy more than a million jobs and perhaps nudge us into recession.

The Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU this week released an analysis of the cuts in the $3.5 trillion federal budget. So-called “mandatory” programs like Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare account for $2.3 trillion. Those programs would lose about $14 billion.

However, “discretionary” spending accounts for just $1.2 trillion in annual spending. Those programs would take a big hit. The $546 billion discretionary defense budget would lose about $43 billion. The $501 billion non-defense discretionary budget would lose about $29 billion.

That’s still not the end of the world, but the meat-ax cuts will hurt the military at a time when we’re still in a shooting war. Moreover, millions of Americans are still struggling to find their footing in a recovery that has so far only helped the stock market. Some 31,000 teachers and teacher’s aides could get laid off, emergency unemployment benefits will drop by almost 10 percent and 500,000 low-income pregnant women will lose nutritional and medical care, small businesses will lose $540 million in loan guarantees to list a few of the impacts.

Of course, we really should reduce federal spending — and bring the deficit back under control. In fact, Republicans in Congress and the White House should have embraced some comprehensive plan like Simpson-Bowles three years ago. We need a mix of cuts in both military and domestic spending, tough-minded reforms in entitlement programs, some way to reduce medical cost inflation and sensible tax increases. Only a tough-minded, far-sighted, bipartisan compromise has any chance of resolving the nation’s critical, long-term problems.

So we hope that the yammering politicians on both sides of the aisle are just indulging their petty, irresponsible, knucklehead personas for one more moment of manufactured crisis. Surely they’re just putting on their Freddy Krueger Halloween costumes at Easter just for laughs. Then they’ll play at adulthood to provide the nation with the confidence the recovery demands.

Surely all those smart people aren’t really and truly self-serving, short-sighted idiots. But heck, we’ve been fooled before.

Good news for ASU

The state’s three public universities could have their first good budget news in years if the state Legislature will act on Gov. Jan Brewer’s sensible advice.

The governor wants to give the three universities an 8 percent boost, after years of deep cuts in state support. The $58 million increase would reward the universities for buying into a plan to make them more accountable.

Today, we report on one such effort — a Board of Regents’ study that documented the $1 billion boost university-based research gives the state’s economy.

Moreover, the universities have reported a significant increase in enrollment — and an even more important increase in the number of degrees awarded. Critics have in the past rightly observed that far too many students at the three public universities don’t end up with a degree within five or six years — a huge potential waste of resources.

We hope that the Legislature will accept the governor’s budget plan for the universities in the upcoming fiscal year. The increase won’t restore the cuts of recent years — and tuition remains ruinously high. Still, the increases represent a welcome respite from the dismantling of an educational system crucial to the state’s prospects.

Besides, it certainly should help provide the final impetus for Arizona State University or the University of Arizona to sign a deal with the Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE to build a 6,000-student campus in Payson. All the projections suggest the state will have to double the number of college degrees awarded in the next decade — and the Payson campus is ready to fill that need.

And that’s why good news for the state’s universities is good news for Rim Country.

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