Despite “scary talk” in Washington, the federal budget sequester “isn’t that big a deal,” says Dean Calbreath, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and longtime economics reporter.
Speaking at the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club meeting Wednesday night, Calbreath says he finds himself agreeing with members of Congress, including Republicans, who say automatic spending cuts aren’t as dire as depicted.
In fact, cuts in the defense budget, “which is usually sacrosanct,” could be a positive development, he said, even though in San Diego County its effects are three times that of the nation overall.
With 20,000 civilian defense workers in San Diego County, he said, thousands of layoffs are already in the works, and with a “multiplier effect” on other parts of the region, the economic loss here may be $2.5 billion this year and $5 billion in 2014.
That, he told a crowd of 90 at the La Mesa Community Center, could put San Diego County “back into the recession.”
How would a 2 percent cut in social programs pan out under the sequester?
Calbreath, who worked 15 years for The San Diego Union-Tribune, said GOP efforts in Washington are under way to change how cuts are made to the Pentagon.
A similar attempt to modify social-program cuts may be made by Democrats, he said.
In any case, the sequester is a bad idea, said Calbreath, 57, a resident of Kensington.
“I think this is terrible timing,” he said in a 17-minute talk followed by questions and answers. “You never want to do deep cuts in the budget” when the economy is weak.
Efforts in the White House to portray the sequester as a meat ax aimed at preschoolers and other children’s programs are “an element of scare tactics,” he said.
It’s a “way of getting voters outraged, stir up voter resentment,” said Calbreath, part of the team that won a 2006 Pulitzer for exposing Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham in a system of bribe-taking to benefit defense contractors.
With an audience of mostly middle-agers and older Democrats, several questions addressed Social Security and Medicare (which are not part of the sequester, Calbreath noted).
But Calbreath said those programs mainly for the elderly are, in fact, entitlements—since people paid into those programs and are entitled to reap their benefits.
“Entitlement has been turned into a bad word,” he said, expressing surprise at what he called 1984-ish irony.
Asked about San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and his battles with the downtown hotel industry and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, Calbreath said he sympathized with the new Democratic mayor.
“The problem is he comes off as bull in a china shop,” said Calbreath, who has worked at the San Diego Daily Transcript since January. He “unnecessarily angers people.”
When Filner and Goldsmith accused each other of being a Mike Aguirre—a combative and controversial city attorney under Mayor Jerry Sanders—it prompted Calbreath to contact Aguirre.
Aguirre told Calbreath that it “looks like the worst thing anybody can say in San Diego politics” is to liken someone to himself.
Calbreath quoted Aguirre as saying “you need respect between the mayor and city attorney’s offices.”
Although Goldsmith, the former Poway mayor, may have the Aguirre edge now, Aguirre told Calbreath that the balance may change.
Calbreath quoted Aguirre as saying: “I’m sure both of them will exceed me in the next couple years.”