The Sequester: Still a Thing

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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87 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    But even if the hits on the national security state are real, the most obvious and I’d hazard to say lasting results are being felt by those who need the government most, and influence it the least.

    The sun still rises in the East and sets in the West.Report

  2. morat20 says:

    It’s amazing how many people don’t understand how funding works in the real world. “Cut 10% off the top, why does that equally a giant payroll cut? You’re just fudging numbers to make it look worse” is a common statement. (They didn’t REALLY need to cut staff in half, etc).

    You can’t sell 10% of a building, or only pay 90% of rent. You can’t just process 90% of passports (roll a d10 to see who doesn’t get one!), or only pay 90% of your electrical bill.

    Payroll happens to be the one place — business and government alike — where you can make cuts without selling off major assets. So the National Parks Service for instance, which can’t sell off parks, will close them (to reduce the need for staff) and fire staff instead.

    But really, it’s a damn stupid way to do business. If you need to reduce costs 10%, you go department by department, asset by asset, line by line and look for places you can cut. You don’t tell every department head he’s losing 10% of his budget.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to morat20 says:

      I think it’s a response to Washington Monument Syndrome.

      There’s an amazing amount of distrust when it comes to government budgeting, you see.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

        I can’t really blame the Washington Monument folks, insofar as a budget items are (outside the military, which has gotten to the point where it tries — and fails — to turn money down) basically political football.

        The folks writing the budget are quite often the sort who believe — or claim to, at least — that there’s enough “Waste, fraud, and abuse” to cut 10 or 15% without interfering with services. Picking a very big service to cut, rather than shuttering a thousand tiny ones or slashing hours everywhere — is one way to push back on that.

        The budget process is dysfunctional as all get out, and I think the GOP bears a lion’s share of the blame these days. Democrats — at least the last two decades — have at least tried to pay for government.

        The GOP, with the “tax cuts more than pay for themselves” line — which has not shown itself to work — have gotten in a bit of a hole. They’ve promised a lot more than their preferred tax rates can afford, they don’t dare cut popular programs and want to cut taxes even further, so they have to lay it all on ‘waste, fraud and abuse’ and the rapidly aging ‘this tax cut will bring in more revenue, honest’.

        It’s times like that I think about Florida’s drug-testing welfare recipients. Spending 10 million dollars to save a program 100,000 isn’t….well, it’s flat out not worth it. You’re 9.9 million further in the hole. You didn’t SAVE money.

        I have no doubt there’s waste, fraud and abuse in the Federal Government. How can there not be? It’s a massive organization, and any such — from the Boy Scouts to Lockheed Martin to any large charity — is gonna have it. Lord knows there’s a lot of gimlet eyes on the non-military budget looking for it (it’s always good political hay), which is a pretty heavy push-back right there.

        But I’m pretty skeptical that there’s nearly as much as is routinely claimed, and I’d be surprised if — by and large — the non-military budget wasn’t fairly close to the “It’d cost more to audit and root it out than we’d save” levels.

        Just look at the ‘spending scandals’ — 100k for snail mating research by the EPA or whatnot. If the best “waste” scandals you can get are ones that, upon examining them in detail, you find out that it’s pretty straightforward research into a rather useful field, it’s hard to think there’s that much actual waste.

        (Now the military, well…Good lord, the amount we flushed down the drain during Gulf War II alone would fund NASA for a few decades. Millions in cash just walking off, buildings nobody will ever use….Jesus. But nobody ever wants to cut THAT budget. Not even when the Army actually begs Congress not to fund a given weapons system or whatnot).Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Well, I’m one of those nuts who sees such things as the DEA raids on Washington Marijuana dispensaries as evidence of waste, fraud and abuse. (Hell, the very *EXISTENCE* of the TSA.)

        I agree that the military budget could probably cut in, oh, half without much fallout (less emphasis with boots on the ground, close 90% of foreign bases (WHY ARE WE STILL OCCUPYING GERMANY???), put remaining efforts into navy and space command and drones, drones, drones).

        The reason I like the sequester is that, sure, we start with closing the Washington Monument… but the second sequester might actually scratch some of the stuff that the government shouldn’t be doing. We can cut *THAT*. And if the second sequester doesn’t get it, maybe the third or fourth will.

        And, at the end of the day, we can ask “how much to staff the Washington Monument?”

        And increase their budget by that much.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Jaybird says:

        It’s very easy for me to decide which politicians never to vote for. One way to go on the list is to claim that you can balance either our state or federal budget by eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse.”Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:


        I don’t think you are nut for thinking that DEA raids are fat in the budget or NSA or military stuff. I agree with you on a lot of it. If not all of it including cutting the military budget by half (I’d aim for 60 percent probably).

        However, I don’t think those things are ever going to get cut. It will always be stuff like food stamps and education budgets that get cut. I want to live the world of the bumper sticker that talks about the airforce needing to hold a bakesale to buy a jet but I doubt it will happen anytime soon.

        And as a bleeding heart liberal, I am opposed to that. As a person that likes culture, I am supposed to cutting that stuff as well. All of the really good Museums in London are free. Why can’t the US support her museums and make them free of charge?Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

        But the DEA stuff isn’t “waste, fraud and abuse”. Those DEA raids? They’re pretty much what the DEA is supposed to be doing.

        Your problem is with the law — and possibly with the DEA’s priorities under the law (although let’s face it: “I know where a ton of illegal drugs are right now. Let’s go seize them and arrest everyone” is sorta the DEA’s job. Sure, you think it shouldn’t apply to dispensaries — I think that too! — but it does).

        Cutting the DEA’s budget isn’t going to fix that. Changing the law will.

        Honestly, what makes you think governing via budget item is actually going to be BETTER than governing via, you know, governing. “let’s see — slash the DEA’s budget and hope they magically stop doing the stuff I hate and keep doing the stuff I like or….change the law to make stuff I like legal and keep stuff I don’t illegal…which to choose…”

        Now I’m sure “But it’s more likely we can cut the DEA’s budget than change the law” is a quick objection — but if too many people want the law like it is, what makes you think they’re going to support the DEA prioritizing YOUR way instead of theirs?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        I guess it depends on our theory of the law. My theory of the law is that it exists to serve The People (as in: the citizenry of the US) rather than, oh, provide employment and/or cheap thrills for winners of the Civil Service Test Lottery.

        That is to say: enforcing an immoral law is, itself, immoral and ought not be done.

        Cutting the DEA’s budget isn’t going to fix that. Changing the law will.

        The people in Washington and Colorado tried to change the law. As it turns out, the DEA didn’t care particularly much.

        This communicates to me that the DEA has too many agents, too much free time, and too many resources otherwise if they are going to use their available resources to bust dispensaries in states that have “changed the law”.

        I will also do whatever I can to spread the meme that the sequester might result in less poor governance… eventually. And I will hold up events like the DEA busting Washington Dispensaries as evidence of the still-extant waste, fraud, and abuse that should be reasons that you, yes you, should support the sequester.

        For what it’s worth, there are probably more people out there who agree with you than agree with me… but, if there aren’t? Defending the federal government doing immoral things because, hey, it’s the law… that won’t be seen as an argument in favor of giving the government more money to do immoral things under color of law.

        but if too many people want the law like it is, what makes you think they’re going to support the DEA prioritizing YOUR way instead of theirs?

        I was going to open my next paragraph with “no one cares less about the wishes of Washington State voters than I” but I see that you apparently have managed it.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

        Morat raises other good points. Drug raids and arrests are within the purview of the DEA and local police.

        What you disagree with is the law which is fine. Plenty of people disagree with the law. And other laws.

        I also agree with Morat’s points about governing through budget cuts.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Jaybird says:

        When we give the DEA money and say, “Go raid places that have drugs,” that’s what’s going to happen. The idea that giving the DEA (less money and saying, “Go raid places that have drugs,” is going to produce meaningfully better results seems crazy.

        They’re more likely just to do a worse job while continuing to raid places that have drugs. “Worse” could mean raiding fewer places or it could mean doing the same amount of raiding less competently. I’m not sure how excited we should be about doing that experiment.

        Hoping that a reduced budget will cause the DEA to drop its primary mission and use the remaining budget to fix potholes and plant trees won’t do the trick.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

        I hate to break this to you Jaybird, but even if the DEA was specifically focused on in the sequester and it’s budget was cut, they’d still raid dispensaries in Washington and California because those places are _advertising_ they’re breaking federal law. That’s called the easiest arrest ever, short of somebody walking in and confessing.

        Also, I still wouldn’t support the sequester, because far more people are hurt by the sequester than will be saved from being raided by the DEA even in your fantasy projection of what would happen.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Well, then Jesse, I’d hope that fewer people listen to me than to you.

        Because stuff like the TSA, DEA, and IRS scandals are going to be my main arguments for why the government has too many employees and too many resources at the disposal of the employees.

        If the government was actually engaged in Good Government? My argument would have absolutely zero resonance with anybody with half a brain and you wouldn’t have to explain that the DEA is just kicking down doors in states that have legalized weed because… hey. It’s the law.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:


        For a long time the DEA did serve the will of the people because the majority of people thought that drugs should be illegal. There could have been a fair deal of hypocrisy in these numbers.

        The tide is turning on marijuana but is that true for other drugs? How many people think that meth, cocaine, heroin, and lsd should be legal?

        Now we can get into a very complicated argument about civil liberties and when a minority should and should not be the victim of the tyranny of the majority* but that is a much more complicated conversation and one that might not have any real, definitive answer…..

        *American democracy often seems to be about everyone wanting it both ways. Pointing out when they are in the majority but when they are in the minority come the cries of “protection against the tyranny of the majority”.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        As defenses of the DEA kicking down doors of dispensaries in a state that has legalized marijuana, bringing up “what about heroin?” is one of the less persuasive ones I’ve seen.

        To be perfectly honest, the drug war strikes me as similar to Prohibition insofar as its obvious immorality, overstepping of jurisdiction, and general harm done/benefit gained vs. the benefits/harm gained by not having done that harm/benefit.

        And that’s without getting into issues such as abortion, gay marriage, raw milk cheeses, and so on.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

        Because stuff like the TSA, DEA, and IRS scandals are going to be my main arguments for why the government has too many employees and too many resources at the disposal of the employees.

        What on earth makes you think that’s a function of size? The IRS auditing people? That’s its job — it’s not a task they made up to hire more people and expand. That’s the task Congress gave them.

        The DEA? It’s there to locate drugs illegal under federal law, and seize them and prosecute people. The DEA doesn’t decide what drugs are illegal — and it didn’t add pot to the list so it could hire more agents.

        I don’t know what sort of mind-control powers you think the TSA has, but they didn’t write the PATRIOT Act, nor did the DEA make pot a Schedule I drug. They don’t determine their own budgets, they don’t make the laws they enforce.

        It’s not even putting the cart before the horse.

        The DEA is applying the law as written. The IRS is. TSA is. At best they set priorities (and heck, the IRS doesn’t even get to do that without it being called a ‘scandal’ — they get tons of political pressure on how their audits are done) — but those priorities are right within the law.

        Pot is a Schedule I substance. Slash the DEA’s funding? They’ll STILL go after dispensaries. No amount of federal government hate against the DEA will change the law. Changing the LAW will prevent the DEA from raiding those things.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:


        I know it is an unpopular view (because it seems too split the difference) but I generally think that the war against marijuana and MDMA is immoral.

        The prohibitions against cocaine, crack, heroin, and meth not as much. Those drugs do cause serious damage that marijuana and MDMA do not seem to.Report

      • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        Meth’s like mercury. Ban accordingly.
        Everything else? meh, if the high-flight lawyers
        can use crack and
        still pull a job, I figure it can’t be too harmful.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:


        Lawyers do have high-statistics for substance abuse but I wonder how many of the lawyer doing an all-nighter on cocaine are urban legend or not.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:


        No one is arguing with you about the morality of DEA policies.

        We are arguing with you on whether we think the sequester will ever hit the DEA and even if it does whether they will be forced to conduct fewer raids or adopt different policies.Report

      • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        understand, I don’t know anything about this myself.
        But I do know knowledgeable folks…
        (the type that could point you to drug dealers if sufficiently bribed)

        From what I understand, the high-flight lawyers on crack
        tend to be on it… kinda constantly, and tend to be real assholes.

        The other 75% of high-flight lawyers are on marijuana (after hours),
        and they’re decent people, just with a high stress job.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        The argument, as I understand it, is that the cuts are “across the board”. (Indeed, the White House website says that the sequester is “across the board”.)

        As such, it seems that the cuts affect the DEA, the NSA, the military, the IRS, and, yeppers, the TSA. Or, at least, that’s what I assume “across the board” means.

        And the more bad actors we can point to in the Federal Government, the more that we can say that the cuts need to be “across the board”.

        I imagine the Federal Government will respond by such things as closing the Washington Monument. This strikes me as a monumentally (NPI) bad decision on their part. Though completely unsurprising.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

        Jaybird: Yes, those 10% cuts were across the board.

        The point I’m trying to make is that cutting the DEA’s budget by 10% will do absolutely nothing to (1) change the law on drugs (2) change the DEA’s current — set by Congress and by the Executive — priorities or (3) Actually do ANYTHING but degrade quality or quantity of service.

        Again, you seem to feel that by slashing a given department’s budget, that will somehow make them ignore the law as written and confirm to your policy preferences. Policy preferences you can’t get enshrined into law, on laws you can’t get changed to reflect your views — so what makes you think a budget cut will enact YOUR chances?

        The sequester is idiocy. It’s not how you save money (it is, in fact, the very definition of “penny wise, pound foolish”) and was enacted SPECIFICALLY because it was so stupid that no sane person would allow it to happen. Which, of course, overestimated the GOP.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

        Cool Jaybird. Can I get the field you’re in so I can find isolated cases of people in your industry acting stupidly so I can create a political movment to cut spending in your field so you lose your job. I mean, that would be kind of asshole-ish for me to do. But I guess, government employees aren’t real people. So, it’s OK to defend ruining their livelihood in the name of ideology and false scandals.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Perhaps I can leverage this…

        I work for the DEA.
        Please write your letter to:
        The President
        c/o The White House
        1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
        Washington, DC 20500

        I am one of those jerks who kicks down doors.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Policy preferences you can’t get enshrined into law

        It’s weird how differently we use these words.

        Anyway, the worse government acts towards the citizenry, the easier it is to support its defunding.

        We’ve had one round of the sequester and it looks like we might have a second. Wanna go for three? Keep defending stupidity.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Jaybird says:

        This is starting to sound like a case of wanting to shut down government because it’s dysfunctional, and if it’s not dysfunctional enough to justify shutting it down, we’ll just maim it until it’s dysfunctional enough to justify shutting it down.

        This is one reason why I can’t bring myself to vote Republican. “I’ll burn this whole mother down” just isn’t a plan for governance that I can get on board with.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

        Jaybird: Um, not really. You don’t want pot to be a Schedule I drug. Hey, neither do I. Sadly, not enough people agree with us to get that changed.

        Therefore, no matter how legal pot is in your state, it’s still really illegal federally. Which means if you hand it out, in full accordance with state law, the feds are gonna say “Hey, easy bust” and come seize it. And they darn well should. Because that’s the law, and that’s their job, and if they can’t do the EASY jobs (ie, where the dealers identify themselves) they need to be replaced because they won’t hack the hard ones.

        I think the answer is “change the law”. You seem to think the answer is “Keep cutting the DEA’s budget until they stop”. Probably because you realize the votes for “change the law” aren’t there at the moment.

        I suppose technically your way could work, but why exactly would the DEA stop busting pot dealers — state or otherwise — because you slashed their budget 10%? Why would across-the-board cuts lead to the DEA selectively enforcing the law in a way you like, as opposed to some other outcome?

        It seems, basically, that you are unhappy with the law, and seem to find defunding the government as a solution. Which seems…overly broad, if not down-right undemocratic and also frankly not at all likely to succeed but cause a LOT of damage in the trying.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        I think the answer is “change the law”.

        Washington *DID* change the law. It had no effect upon the Federal Government’s actions.

        What’s left?

        I submit: threatening the funding of bad actors. Luckily, we have enough bad actors that “threatening the funding across the board” is likely to result in cuts being felt by the bad actors in question… and, if they’re not, maybe the next round will.

        How much are you willing to gamble that there are more people who are more than happy enough to studiously avoid throwing out babies with bathwater compared to people who are wondering about the last time they even saw the baby? I submit to you: the more bathwater these agencies create will not be to the benefit of these agencies.

        To the extent that you’re more likely to get me to change my mind than to get these agencies to start acting less psychotically, perhaps you’re right to be putting your effort where you are… but I’d still rather we continue to cut the budgets of the bad agencies in efforts to, at least, get them to say “holy cow, maybe we need to act in such a way that more than just True Believers in Big Government are supporting us!”

        Perhaps you could get some traction with Republicans by pointing out how many minorities have been jailed due to such things as the war on drugs. I understand they’re into that.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

        Washington *DID* change the law. It had no effect upon the Federal Government’s actions.

        What law and how did they change it?

        Because you can’t be talking about the sequester — that wasn’t done to punish bad actors, or to change anything, it was a lever in budget talks over the size and scope of government. Getting shirty because the sequester didn’t change the DEA’s enforcement of existing law would be like…I dunno, denying your daughter dessert because the dog peed on the rug.

        So what law did Congress change that should have impacted the DEA’s enforcement priorities? I don’t follow drug law that closely, so they could easily have passed something I missed.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Washington State passed “Initiative 502” (and Colorado passed “Amendment 64”).

        These were a citizen initiative and a state constitutional amendment, respectively, that legalized recreational use of marijuana (above and beyond the medicinal marijuana legalization passed by both states in earlier years).

        This isn’t dealing with laws about the sequester, true, but I find that the more high-profile stupid things that the government does, the more sympathy there is for the government departments in question to lose funding.

        I’d compare to one’s child doing stupid and malicious things with his or her allowance rather than using it on, say, books. “The child needs *MORE* money!” comes one version of the argument. “They’d buy books if only they had more money!”

        My counter-argument is “Maybe the freakin’ kid shouldn’t waste so much money on kicking down doors of more or less innocent people. Let him buy books with the ‘door kicking fund’ if he needs book money.”Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Jaybird says:

        “These were a citizen initiative and a state constitutional amendment, respectively, that legalized recreational use of marijuana (above and beyond the medicinal marijuana legalization passed by both states in earlier years).”

        The example of California’s Proposition 8 showed us exactly how much citizen initiatives are worth.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yes but there is still Federal Policy on Drugs/Narcotics and this is physical object/good and that has long been in the power of the Federal government according to the Commerce Clause. There is not a state that can choose to allow a drug that is banned or not approved by the FDA.

        The difference between marriage is that marriage has always been a state law issue. DOMA was an attempt to preempt state law.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

        Washington State passed “Initiative 502? (and Colorado passed “Amendment 64?).

        Look, there’s no need to cover Federalism 101 here. You and I both know that Federal Drug law trumps state drug law. Cut, dried, end of story. No amount of state law changes or state constitution changes can change federal law in this area. So stating “they changed the law and nothing changed” is..I don’t even have a term. Willful obfuscation?

        Federal law is unchanged. This isn’t a grey area under the Constitution. It’s cut and dried, and has been for centuries. Furthermore, it bloody well SHOULDN’T be up to the DEA to pick and choose which federal laws should be enforced — especially not based on what a given state did. If the law wasn’t an anti-pot law, I suspect you’d happily be railing against ‘unelected bureaucrats’ — the DEA doesn’t write the law, it enforces it.

        My counter-argument is “Maybe the freakin’ kid shouldn’t waste so much money on kicking down doors of more or less innocent people. Let him buy books with the ‘door kicking fund’ if he needs book money.”

        Your counter-argument remains: “I don’t like the law as written, we should stop funding an entire department until they stop enforcing the law I don’t like”. You realize that’s not just anti-democratic, but kind of petulant. “Stupid DEA. Enforcing laws I don’t like along with all those other laws. They should pick and choose like I would. And until they do, I’m gonna just cut their budget.”

        And even if that MIGHT work — stupid as it is — you run into a problem: You dislike the law, but not enough people currently agree with you to change it. If the DEA was going to pick and choose which aspects of the law to enforce, WHY would they pick a minority view to endorse?’Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

        I think the citizens of Washington and Colorado basically decided to commit an act of civil disobedience in mass with their respective marijuana legalizing amendments.

        Civil Disobedience is great. It has gotten rid of many unjust laws but part of civil disobedience is willingly breaking/defying the law to make a case about how unjust the law is. If you want to commit civil disobedience, you need to be willing to suffer the consequences for violating the law to make your case.

        Martin Luther King and many others did this against Jim Crow in the South and they went to jail. Others paid with their lives but they knew that this was necessary to get Civil Rights legislation passed. Martin Luther King gave the world “Letter from Birmingham Jail”Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        If the DEA was going to pick and choose which aspects of the law to enforce, WHY would they pick a minority view to endorse?’

        Imagine, if you will, an alternate universe in which the DEA spent the weekend kicking down doors in Kentucky busting up a ring of meth cooks and putting meth dealers in prison. Imagine, if you will, an alternate universe in which the DEA spent the weekend kicking down doors in Northern California kicking down doors behind which an opium purification/heroin ring was operating. Imagine, if you will, an alternate universe in which Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas kick down the doors of boats to find tons of cocaine. And Glen Frey is there too.

        My discussion of how awful and stupid the DEA is would come across like I was a total crank and, like, *NOBODY* would agree with me that the DEA had too much time on its hands.

        But that’s not what the DEA spent the weekend doing.

        The more bad behavior the government engages in, the easier it is to swallow the argument that the government is doing stuff that, maybe, it wouldn’t do if it didn’t have so much money to play with.

        I mean, you and I both know that the government picks and chooses which laws to enforce on which days. If I cannot agitate for laws to sunset after a while, if I cannot agitate for drugs to be rescheduled, but I can agitate for agencies that act badly to lose funding?

        I’m going to agitate for agencies that act badly to lose funding.

        Personally, I’m surprised that we’re going to see a second round of the sequester. I thought for sure that we wouldn’t have the stomach for it… but here we are. Maybe we’ll have the stomach for a third!Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

        But that’s not what the DEA spent the weekend doing.
        Actually, it did that too. So?

        The more bad behavior the government engages in, the easier it is to swallow the argument that the government is doing stuff that, maybe, it wouldn’t do if it didn’t have so much money to play with.

        Just to clarify by “bad behavior” you mean “enforcing the laws as written, and as intended”, right? I mean it’s not like the DEA was twisting some obscure federal statute or enforcing a law deemed unconstitutional but never removed from the books…

        They were, in fact, enforcing the law as written and meant. That’s what you mean by “bad behavior”. When the government does exactly what it intended to do? In this case, with full support of the citizenry? It’s not like “Pot is a Schedule 1 Drug” is a secret law or immune to the act of Congress.

        I mean, you and I both know that the government picks and chooses which laws to enforce on which days. If I cannot agitate for laws to sunset after a while, if I cannot agitate for drugs to be rescheduled, but I can agitate for agencies that act badly to lose funding??

        You can agitate. You just haven’t won. So your point remains that — unable to get the laws changed through democratic means, you wish to defund the government out of spite, basically, until it stops enforcing laws you don’t like.

        You can agitate ALL you want. You’re doing it now, on a board where lots of people agree with you! Your problem seems to be with the stubborn fact that you haven’t won. That it’s illegal and you don’t like it.

        We come back to the point: You consider ‘bad government’ to be enforcing the laws because you don’t like those laws. Suck it up. That’s life in a democracy, libertarian or otherwise.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Just to clarify by “bad behavior” you mean “enforcing the laws as written, and as intended”, right?

        You keep using those words differently than I am used to seeing them.

        Washington passed some laws very, very recently. Much more recently than the Federal Law the DEA was enforcing (passed in 1970, believe it or not).

        you wish to defund the government out of spite, basically, until it stops enforcing laws you don’t like.

        Pretty much. Think we’ll see a round three? I’ll support it.

        Will you put in half as much effort defending federal overreach? Maybe we’ll get to round four!Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

        Washington passed some laws very, very recently. Much more recently than the Federal Law the DEA was enforcing (passed in 1970, believe it or not).

        Jaybird, you’re not dumb. Far from it. Is refuge in stupidity your best argument here? You know Federal drug law — whether passed a year ago or 100 years ago — preempts state drug law. It’s not a grey constitutional area. It doesn’t matter WHEN Washington passed it’s state law, federal law still trumps it.

        So you pointing out Washington state JUST passed a new law is, well, it’s not an argument. It’s flat-out stupid and insulting to everyone’s intelligence. You know it’s stupid statement on the face of it, yet you made it anyways.

        It’s either an argument of desperation, where you’re just throwing crap up against the wall or you think everyone reading it is so stupid they think federal/state law interactions work that way.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Jaybird says:

        Another option to get the DEA reprioritize its resources would be for us to blow up 10% of our roads and bridges. If that doesn’t work, we can repeat the process until it’s too expensive and inconvenient for the DEA to drive out for all but the most important raids.

        Vote Troublesome Frog in 2016. I’ll know if you didn’t.Report

      • Fnord in reply to Jaybird says:

        You do know that state laws don’t bind the federal government, right? Are you familiar with a little thing called the Supremacy Clause?

        Seriously, I’m all for a little prosecutorial discretion from the federal executive, particularly in cases like this. But seriously, to cast this as some kind of out-on-a-limb overreach from the DEA because of Washington state law is absurd.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:

        I wonder how many people in this subthread arguing against JB were for the Amash amendment.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Well, I figure you don’t want to hear the Wickard speech (again). I am pretty sure you see the speech arguing about what should be done assuming the existence of “morality” to be silly. I’m stuck arguing on the basis of the government not reflecting the consent of the governed and enjoying you argue on the behalf of naked power imposing its will on people.

        Because, indeed, that’s the way it works.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        Washington and Colorado didn’t legalize marijuana. They repealed the state and local laws against it. There’s no constitutional question here; the federal laws remain. The only way to change the federal laws is to change the federal laws. Write your congressperson. Explain that, unlike asking a court to enforce what’s left of the Voting Rights Act, kicking down doors and shooting dogs really is despotism.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’m pretty sure I remember reading language about the regulation of its sale. If the law talks about how it would be bought/sold, that really seems like “legalization”.

        Perhaps we’d like to draw a distinction between “legal at the state level” and “legal at the federal level” and how just because it’s one doesn’t mean it’s the other… and then we can discuss whether the legislature/executive really is reflecting the will of the people here.

        Isn’t the executive in charge of the department in charge of choosing what drugs are scheduled where? Or is congress in charge of that?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        From the Wiki:

        “Two federal agencies, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration, determine which substances are added to or removed from the various schedules, though the statute passed by Congress created the initial listing, and Congress has sometimes scheduled other substances through legislation such as the Hillory J. Farias and Samantha Reid Date-Rape Prevention Act of 2000, which placed gamma hydroxybutyrate in Schedule I. ”

        Looking at the schedules, it seems to me that Marijuana might, at its worst, be classified as a Schedule III and while I personally think that it ought to be treated as, say, Nicotine/Alcohol, I could see the arguments for putting it in IV or V.

        Why in the hell is it still in Schedule I?

        Not enough people making phone calls?Report

    • Troublesome Frog in reply to morat20 says:

      I knew that my last company was in some serious doo-doo when we had layoffs and management insisted that every department lay off an equal percentage of its people.Report

    • Cascadian in reply to morat20 says:

      For me, the hard part is that it’s a level one drug? To support the proposition that herb has no medicinal utility, and there fore in the Federal Government’s court, requires a blindness or cynicism beyond what is acceptable. To maintain this position is an affront to law and should be pushed back against as an illegitimate use of coercion and over reach of the state.

      Hopefully, this provides a learning opportunity about the importance of Federalism for those on the left. On the right it separates those that are for States Rights except for herb or Religious Freedom except for those polygamists or Rastas and those that can actually tow the line.Report

  3. LeeEsq says:

    To the supporters of the sequester, this is a feature not a bug. They think that needing the government makes you weak and dependent. This will make people self-reliant, at least in theory.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to LeeEsq says:

      “FYIGM.” If you can say that with sincerity, the sequester is a good thing.

      If not, then at best it’s a sign that the political branches of government have proven incapable of solving this problem. Whether that is caused by a) the occupants of those public offices or b) the nature of the problem itself is a matter of religion.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I think it’s a bit of both columns. The current GOP treats their platform/ideology as a religious creed and all deviation as heresy. As true believers, they are also not the type that would compromise.Report

  4. North says:

    I don’t think there’s any prospect of any of this damage being reversed with the current makeup of Congress and the Senate. The defense cuts are some consolation though, at the very bare bones minimum Dems and Obama had better bloody well hold the line on those.Report

  5. Jim Heffman says:

    Given the multi-year nature of defense development and procurement, cutting the spending on those efforts is like telling a woman that you can’t afford a baby right now so she’ll need to add a couple of months to her pregnancy.Report

    • morat20 in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      Given the nature of reality, it’s like giving a man a 10% pay-cut and telling him to cut 10% everywhere. Sure, it requires breaking his lease and move to a 10% cheaper apartment/house (costs more than than the 10% he saved), handle having his electricity off the one month of the year he just doesn’t pay (costs more in fees than he saves), and generally make cuts in the dumbest places.

      Which made it darkly ironic to hear politicians complain the sequester was implemented stupidly when, you know, the stupid nature was both mandated, inevitable, and a feature designed to force a deal rather than let such idiocy happen.Report

  6. NewDealer says:


    How do you know the DEA is not also busting up meth and opium rings? Now this sounds a bit paranoid/conspiracy minded. Do you think there is a secret memo that says “Always go after the pot ring and not the heroin ring”

    Also there are still plenty of dispensaries around me in the Bay Area.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

      How do you know the DEA is not also busting up meth and opium rings?

      I never said they didn’t. I merely pointed out that, this last weekend? They spent it attacking weed in a state where weed is legal instead of busting up a meth lab.

      Was April really the most recent article you could find? Dang.Report

  7. Jaybird says:

    Jesse, for the record, the argument (granted, one of many given) that cutting the budget of an odious department would be bad because it would cost jobs is one of the weakest arguments against cutting a budget.

    If the primary point of the DEA is to provide employment to people, surely we should re-think the importance of making sure that people are employed.

    I swear, I get the feeling that if there were a department whose job it was to disproportionately arrest minorities for things that shouldn’t be crimes and I said “we should fire all of them and take away their pensions!”, you’d defend not only their pensions but bemoan the job losses that I would be cheering.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

      It could be worse, Jaybird. We should consider ourselves lucky there isn’t a Federal Job Creation Department employed by people who want to think really hard about job creation. and then hire a team to help them think even harder about how to create more jobs, some of whom eventually hire a team to help them think more better about the intricacies of it all …Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

        I would trade the DEA for that Department in a heartbeat.

        As useless as it would be, it seems like it’d be less actively evil.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Oh, I agree about that. As far as it goes. I’m willing to concede that government has an interest in preserving and expanding it’s power – institutionally speaking! – but also that gummint does some things we don’t want eliminated. Those are the two distal ends of two distinct strains of argument that create a divide manifested in politics.

        How the libertarianish premise that we ought to reduce government to its bare minimum manifests (or rather, ought to manifest) is subject to reasonable, protracted and sometimes intracable dispute, even if that premise is agreed to by everyone with a view. That’s just politics, it seems to me. Libertarianism is inextricably political.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

      The DEA could always solve their budget cut by just asking everyone to take a furlough day and pay cut. This will still give them the ability to conduct raids….Report

      • greginak in reply to NewDealer says:

        Well yeah. Making the admin assistants and janitors likely wouldn’t affect the DEA’s ability to conduct raids. Simple budget cuts without policy changes are more for PR and looking like something is being done then changing direction.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

        Yup. I find jaybird’s inability to see this as being quite astonishing.

        I get that he really really hates the raids. I think most of us really, really dislike the raids and find them immoral and a poor use of money.

        I just don’t see how he thinks the budget cuts would result in less raids. I suppose in an ideal world they would or maybe cause a change in policy like “Let’s go after the heroin ring” but there are ways the DEA can deal with their budget cut and still conduct raids. It does not take much effort to figure this out, yet jaybird continues to insist that the sequester will mean less raids and is therefore good. He even concedes that it might take a few rounds of sequester.

        Meanwhile how many people will be denied food stamps and medicare? How many people will not get their cases (civil and criminal) heard in court. How many sinkholes will go unfixed?Report

      • greginak in reply to NewDealer says:

        Agreed. Furloughs are to crude to do much. Across the board budget cuts are done to avoid thinking about is a good idea and having to deal with difficult politics. Furloughing the janitors doesn’t do squat to an agency. Even more, that agency will be doing what they can to get that money back in the next budget. Oh they’ll buy less stationary and put off training and such but nothing that really affects their mission.

        The agencies and people that can least afford a %5 cut end up with a kick in the nads while the people and agencies that can afford it are , at most, annoyed but not deeply affected.Report

      • switters in reply to NewDealer says:

        Cutting the DEA’s budget is going to make it more likely, not less, that they continue to go after the lowest hanging fruit. What is the lowest hanging fruit? The dispensaries and grow operations that operate in states such as Washington, Colorado and California, that the Feds can get a warrant for based on a advertisement in the paper. The busts that take more resources to investigate and that produce fewer assets to seize and lesser amounts of seized contraband (i.e., the ones Jaybird is OK with) are the first ones they’ll cut.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        Good points as well.

        Furloughs and pay cuts are how the courts handled budget cuts and sequester. Same with the DMV and library. There were no smart policy changes. Just closing down one Friday (or more) a month.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        Do you guys know what happened to the Prohibition Bureau (the one that Eliot Ness worked for)?

        Do you think that the DEA raids against “low hanging fruit” would be more likely to result in the DEA going to the same place or less likely?

        Personally, I’d vote for “more likely”.

        As such, I don’t exactly mind the idea that cutting the funding of the DEA might result in more raids against harmless people in states that have legalized pot. I think that the more of those we have, the more likely we are to disband the DEA entirely.Report

      • switters in reply to NewDealer says:

        Gotcha Jaybird. Your argument went from DEA should have its funding cut because then it will do the stuff i dont like (e.g., raid dispensaries in states where they are legal) less often, to, DEA should have its funding cut because then it will do stuff i don’t like (e.g., raid dispensaries in states where they are legal) more often, and hence be more likely to be disbanded due to building political opposition.

        Sounds a lot like heads you win, tails I lose, no?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        Not exactly, Switters. It’s more that the argument for cutting the DEA funding will result, eventually, in a lack of bad behavior NO MATTER WHAT IT DOES.

        On the one hand, if the DEA says “we’ve got to buckle down!” and starts getting high profile busts of meth, cocaine, crack, heroin, and Tylenol-3, the argument will be “we can’t cut the budget of the DEA! It’s doing so much good!” and the only people arguing against that will be the cranks… because, really, if the DEA is busting meth, cocaine, crack, heroin, and Tylenol-3, they’ll be mostly busting “bad” people who are fairly likely to be criminals other than the fact that they’re dealing in those substances (granted, it’ll be like the rise of organized crime in response to Prohibition… but that doesn’t make Al Capone a nice guy otherwise).

        On the other hand, you’ve got the DEA going after “low hanging fruit” and kicking down doors of people who are pretty much operating within their understanding of the color of law, working within state law, and working with a public that is also working within its understanding of state law, and who are very much less likely to be criminals otherwise… and the kicking down of doors of these people will result in pretty much everybody but the cranks asking “why do we have this government agency in the first place?” and a much greater push to defund/remove it. Perhaps we’ll have some people explain for the need to keep it because, hey, even if they’re kicking down doors, it’s a job. Why remove jobs? I doubt these people will be in the majority, though.

        There is a sea change in the attitudes of society (much like there was a sea change in the attitudes toward gay marriage). There *WILL* be a change in Federal Policy with regards to this particular substance… the remaining questions involve issues of “when?” and “how much damage will the DEA do to itself before this finally happens?”

        Oh, and “how much harm will it continue to do to citizens?”Report

      • switters in reply to NewDealer says:

        J – While I still disagree, I now get the drift of your argument. And trust me when i say I hope, and think, you are right about attitudes changing.

        But those attitudes are changing because attitudes about the drug itself are changing. Enforcement, and attitudes about it, are at best a periphery issue, and for the most part, the people who get upset about the state law legal operations getting busted are those who support already support legalization. I’m sure there are a few anti-ganja but pro-states rights people who are upset by such tactics, but just a few. So the movement continues to be about educating people about the drug, and the levels of risk it entails compared other commonly accepted activities, like consuming alcohol.

        Because of that, legalization is going to occur when enough people’s attitude about the drug change, not their attitudes about the DEA. So balancing the costs of sequestration (not sure you even see any, but i do, so this is my calculus) against the benefit of increasing DEA’s status as a menace, and therefore moving up the point in time at which legalization occurs, is a pretty easy analysis for me. Because I have real costs on one side, and a nominal benefit, if any at all, on the other.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        Well, I will do everything I can to point to the bad actions of the government and say “this is evidence that they have too much time and too much money”. When the opposition says “if you cut their budget, they’ll act even worse!”, I’ll hope that the folks on the fence find the argument that “then we should get rid of it” more compelling than “then we should give them even more money”.

        It’s odd that we don’t have that many people spouting up in comments about how much *GOOD* these departments do, isn’t it? How much harm would be done if they stopped doing what they do?

        The closest we’ve come is Jesse’s point that they provide employment to people.

        I find that *VERY* interesting.Report

      • switters in reply to NewDealer says:

        To be clear, I’m no fan of the DEA, although I am sure they do some good.

        I think you get back to the nub of the disagreement here. While bad government may be evidence (not proof) that they have too much time and too much money, the argument “randomly cutting X% of their budget will therefore make them less bad”, doesn’t necessarily follow, although in some cases it may.

        You seem to think in this case, that conclusion holds. I’m not so sure. In fact, to state my conclusion slightly differently, cutting the DEA’s budget is going to increase the number of people complying with their state law who are hassled by the federal government. I’m not willing to sacrifice those people because it will end better for the rest of us if this happens enough to create a ground swell of opposition to the DEA. And not because I’m some holier than though naïf who doesn’t understand that bad things happening to good people is often a necessary condition of positive change, but because I see the demise of the DEA, at least with regard to its pursuit of marijuana/dealers/growers, happening already, and so, I see that sacrifice as an unnecessary cost. We need to change the laws, not just cut random 10% bits across the board.

        The employment argument is a non-starter. Agreed.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to NewDealer says:

        Budget cuts are a pretty blunt instrument. This is important at two levels. The first level is the DEA level. OK, we don’t know exactly what the DEA will do with less money. Maybe it will work brilliantly, maybe it will collapse. It’s a weird way to get what you want, given that you don’t know what the result will be, but let’s say it works. Stepping back to a more macro view, it looks like the across the board budget cuts that are “good” because they may rein in the DEA are also giving us cuts to things like lead abatement.

        As the blast radius of our DEA solution increases, I start to wonder if there isn’t a more surgical way to handle it. If we cut every budget of every type across the board, we could all be substantially poorer, but it would certainly stop all sorts of bad behaviors that require wealth to fund them. But I don’t see that as much of a recommendation.

        This seems to me again to be a side effect of the peevish “there are things I don’t like about government, so let’s torch this place” style of governance that seems so popular now.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        It seems to me that we should be able to increase the budget of the Lead Abatement Department. Hell, we can point at how much good its done and what’s associated with the things that it does. (Bullet companies are making non-lead bullets now! Hurray! Now gun country will get smarter!)

        But is there a mechanism for cutting the budget of bad departments?

        We saw the military budget cut in the 90’s (though that required the fall of our existentially threatening enemy)… is there another example?

        If there isn’t, then the sequester is the *ONLY* tool that will actually result in cuts of bad departments. The only one that works in practice rather than in theory.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        yes, the republicans are systematically defunding the EPA.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to NewDealer says:

        But is there a mechanism for cutting the budget of bad departments?

        A mechanism? Not really. With notably rare exceptions budgets tend to grow pretty steadily. But those rare exceptions should be useful lessons.

        It just happens that there’s a large enough constituency that doesn’t agree with us on the DEA. There’s clearly some movement on the marijuana issue.

        I’m betting that asset seizure rules are going to be a key piece of what tips the scales. They seem to incentivize hitting wealthy targets over penniless nobodies, so sooner or later, those laws will bite the wrong hand. The best way to get rid of bad laws is to make sure that they’re always enforced. Maybe we just need to drastically reduce prosecutorial discretion in cases where a lot of “drug money” is found and see what happens when a big political donor’s kid gets his Porsche seized.Report

      • morat20 in reply to NewDealer says:

        But is there a mechanism for cutting the budget of bad departments?

        It’s called “Congress”.

        That’s sort of the weak link the ‘ole argument chain here. Sure, a given bureaucracy would like to grow. (Just like any given business would, driven by middle and upper management increasing their fiefs). However, they don’t control their own (and private companies are similarly constrained) budgets. They can make requests, they can lobby, but in the end they’re given a set amount of money — and those funds can (and have been) highly restricted (not to be used for this, this much to be used for that)…

        Again, we circle back to the fact that government isn’t some nameless, faceless “thing” imposed by society. That bureaucrats, far from unchecked, are entirely beholden to politicians for their funds (but not their jobs — the spoils system was abandoned for a reason).

        So the “process” to cut bad departments and increase good departments plays out each and every year and it’s called “The Budget”, which is why “We should just keep cutting the government until the stuff I don’t like stops” is idiotic. If enough people disliked it, Congress wouldn’t fund the bloody thing. Until you convince Congress, funds will be prioritized for the things you hate but they like. Because Congress views it as a priority.

        It isn’t the DEA that’s standing in the way of, say, allowing a 50-state trial on pot or changing the drug’s place on the schedules — it’s Congress.

        And trying to change the DEA by cutting government across the board by 10% (or even the DEA alone) is more than foolishness — it’s counter-productive. Change the law if you want things to change.

        Until then, no amount of slashing the entire government budgets is gonna change a law enforcement agency’s priorities away from enforcing the law. (Especially not when the budget cuts have NOTHING TO DO with pot enforcement. At ALL. It’s like me kicking you in the nuts because you insulted my sister, and then having some guy on the sidelines yell “That’s what you get for not learning to play piano”)Report

  8. Stillwater says:

    There has been a 9 percent reduction in the roughly $1 billion budget for federal public defender’s offices, while federal defenders in more than 20 states are planning to close offices.

    Maybe an arrangement could be made: if a person isn’t appointed a not-over-worked competent public defender then the charges against are dropped. Saves money upfront and down the road.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

      If that would force the Prosecution to choose between such things as “do I want to put the multiple-rapist behind bars or the guy who was caught running a poker game in his basement?”, society would only benefit.Report

  9. roger says:


    This entire farce just shows the complete irresponsibility of entrusting so many functions to a coercive, bureaucratic monopoly run by egotistical politicians and administrators. Sorry to throw so many classical liberal buzzwords at you all, but the problems we are dealing with relate to each of the concepts.

    A monopolistic bureaucracy has no institutional incentives to avoid growing. Every complex organization has constant battles over scarce resources. In a monopoly which forces customers to pay without choice, the internal dynamics (power struggles and such) lead to constant pressure to ratchet up expenses as department heads build out their fiefdoms.

    Only a dysfunctional, monopolistic bureaucracy would use budget cuts to inflict pain upon its customers. A competing firm would be forced to direct the cuts at inefficiencies, programs no longer adding value (Head Start?, the occupation of Korea and Germany? Medicare fraud? Salaries and pensions and benefits of the scalliwags who can’t manage to give us a decent return on our tax dollars.

    I am not interested in details of what got cut. If anything worthwhile got cut, we are playing to the politicians and bureaucrats game. They hold the cards, they know they could cut many multiples, but they do not want to. So they use those naive enough to believe them.

    Net net. We have made a huge foundational mistake of trying to solve too many problems via organizations which are intrinsically motivated to grow, even if growth is inefficient. This same mistake constantly generates an arms race of waste as each party actively tries to fund programs in exchange for political support. We throw money at large agricultural conglomerates, and create and “enable” class dependency on that bitter tasting government teat.Report

    • Kim in reply to roger says:

      “Only a dysfunctional, monopolistic bureaucracy would use budget cuts to inflict pain upon its customers.”
      Indeed. Want me to count the corps?Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to roger says:

      The lesson of the Head Start study was not that Head Start is useless. It was shown to be *extremely* useful…while students were *in* the program.

      The lesson of the Head Start study was that it needs to happen at all levels. That individualised education has better results, that smaller class sizes really are better.

      The lesson of the Head Start study was not that we need to do it less, but that we need to do it more.Report

      • roger in reply to Jim Heffman says:

        I am still not sure if you are being serious, but assuming you are…

        You think it is a good argument to state that an expensive program aimed at creating better educated citizens that does no good long term, can be justified as long as it is extended indefinitely? I assume you mean to graduation of high school or something, not cradle to grave, but I will let you clarify.

        You are aware that our local monopoly government school system already is among the least effiient in the known universe, right? Are you suggesting that making it twice as inefficient will somehow “do the trick?”. I should just trust you and the local teachers union right?

        Have you considered ideas on how people can educate and stimulate their own preschoolers? You know, like read to them, take them to a library, form local coops of moms that tutor each others kids. How do these decentralized systems compare to the results of your $9000 a year per student boondoggle? Where were they tried? They were tried, right? Surely we didn’t jump right to “let’s form a centralized, ridiculously expensive, totally unproven, big government solution” did we?Report

  10. Damon says:

    The total cuts are managable. We can all quibble over the way they were designed, but both sides agreed to this method expecting that “it would get fixed later” and it never did. A pox of both of them. Maybe if there would have been less blowback when Lockheed Martin announced they were sending out layoff warnings, there might have been some action. As to the most vulnerable being hurt the most, of course. They don’t have any political power. They always get stepped on.Report