“The Washington Monument Ploy”: As in the Town of Grafton, so too in Washington, DC

by Tim Condon

Less than two weeks ago the people of the town of Grafton gathered to vote on their annual town budget. In arguing for a 10% reduction in spending—which passed—I explained that…

…any cut in government spending historically causes government functionaries to cut the most popular and essential services—such as police protection and snow removal—so as to cause the most pain to the public. This is known as “the Washington Monument ploy,” so named after a national park leader testified (under oath!) to Congress in the 1970’s that the only way they could reduce spending would be to close the super-popular Washington Monument tours (which was actually ordered by a National Park Service bureaucrat in 1969 in response to a 4% budget cut). This scam generally results in the intended purpose of causing the public to stampede in favor of additional taxes for more spending. When I explained the Washington Monument ploy at the Grafton town meeting, I said that of course the board of selectmen in Grafton would never think of doing such a thing…but that town citizens should nevertheless be on guard against any such tendencies. A following speaker got highly agitated, saying that it was offensive that I would suggest that our elected town leaders would even think of doing any such thing!

Cut to Washington, DC today, where the impending “sequester” of spending on March 1st threatens to reduce federal spending by 5%. This is from an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal:

President Obama returned from a long weekend with his golfing buddies on Tuesday to take up his by now familiar political stand: If Republicans don’t raise taxes in return for more spending, the world will end. We wish he’d stayed on the putting green.

Flanked by emergency medical personnel, Mr. Obama made his usual threat of Armageddon if automatic spending cuts go forward on March 1. Americans can expect more such melodrama in the coming days, so as a public service we thought we’d break down the President’s three biggest political tricks.

• The Washington Monument ploy. “If Congress allows this meat-cleaver approach to take place,” he moaned, “it will jeopardize our military readiness; it will eviscerate job creating investments in education and energy and medical research.” His parade of horribles went on for several minutes. All of this wreckage from a 5% cut to domestic agencies and a 7% cut to the military.

Americans need to understand that Mr. Obama is threatening that if he doesn’t get what he wants, he’s ready to inflict maximum pain on everybody else. He won’t force government agencies to shave spending on travel and conferences and excessive pay and staffing. He won’t demand that agencies cut the lowest priority spending as any half-competent middle manager would.

It’s the old ploy to stir public support for all government spending by shutting down vital services first. Voters should scoff at the idea that a $3.6 trillion government can’t save one nickel of every dollar that agencies spend. The $85 billion in savings is a mere 2.3% of total spending. The agencies that the White House says can’t save 5% received an average increase in their budgets of 17% in the previous five years—not counting their $276 billion stimulus bonus.

From the smallest towns in New England to our nation’s capitol, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” (From the French: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”)

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