The federal deficit-cutting plan that will take effect starting in early 2013 if Congress doesn't take action between now and the end of the year is, on balance, a lemon.

The plan has some outright disastrous provisions. It would mean crushing tax hikes, for one thing. In Chattanooga, for example, it would herald an average hike of $3,000-plus per household in income and payroll taxes.

That's a sure-fire job killer and one of the fastest ways to ensure a return to full-blown recession, as more of the nation's economic output shifts out of the productive private sector and into the unaccountable federal maw.

But let it not be said that the budget-cutting plan is utterly without merit.

According to one study, by George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis, close to 280,000 federal jobs would be eliminated over the next year or so as part of a 10-year plan to cut about $1.2 trillion in U.S. government spending.

Incredibly, that figure of 280,000 represents less than one-seventh of the bloated federal workforce.

And that is precisely the problem.

Predictions of doom if the job cuts actually happen ignore a more disturbing reality: that the size of the federal workforce has ballooned under President Barack Obama.

You think those 280,000 possible job losses are "draconian" -- or whatever other hyperbole big-government types favor these days? Then it might come as news to you that that is almost exactly the number of people who have been added to the federal government since Obama took office.

Cutting those jobs would merely get us back to the status quo slightly pre-Obama. And that is scarcely a great budget-slashing achievement, considering that the civilian federal workforce today teems with well over 2 million people.

Naturally, the opponents of federal workforce reductions paint the grimmest of pictures: Meat inspections will halt, they ominously predict, and aviation-related disasters will rise as air control towers go unmanned. They have less interest in publicizing the hopes for long-overdue reductions at disastrously unproductive agencies such as the U.S. Department of Education or the Department of Energy.

Nor are they particularly troubled by statistics indicating that it is almost impossible for a federal employee to be fired.

"The job security rate for all federal workers was 99.43 percent [in 2009-2010] and nearly 100 percent for those on the job more than a few years," USA Today found.

Yet the modest layoffs in prospect starting next year elicit baffling opposition and analysis, even from presumably impartial sources.

"Federal workers have weathered a two-year pay freeze, increased health insurance premiums, and threats of more cuts from Republicans," CNNMoney lamented. "Now their jobs are in jeopardy."

Wait a second! A mere two-year pay freeze and higher health premiums are supposed to outrage the American people and stir us to resist federal job cuts? Really? A show of hands, please, from every private-sector reader who has had a pay freeze of longer than two years -- if you have not been laid off outright -- and who has had to pay higher costs for health insurance. (Raise both hands if you're in an industry such as medical device manufacturing that has been hit with job losses directly related to Obamacare.)

This editorial page does not wish on anyone the pain of unemployment. The fault lies not mainly with the people who sought and obtained positions in this or that unjustified federal bureaucracy but with members of Congress who funded the creation of those bureaucracies in the first place.

Nevertheless, America's $16 trillion fiscal hole won't stop deepening until we stop digging. Any attempt to grapple with the national debt is pure fraud if it does not confront the immensity of the federal workforce and set Washington on a path back to its proper -- and highly limited -- functions.

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