Sequester Follies — February 25, 2013

The posturing and demagoguery of our President surrounding the Great Sequester Debate is infuriating.  More than ever, he gives evidence that he has little interest in governing, and is much more engaged in politicking and campaigning.

Virtually every day in the past week, he has been in front of the cameras, usually with useful human props such as first responders behind him, to describe the fiscal Armageddon that will occur if a deal is not reached by Friday’s deadline to avert the sequester’s across-the-board spending cuts.  And of course, his is the voice of reason when he says the Republicans bear the blame if the sequester goes through, all because of their intransigence, and their unwillingness to agree to any sort of tax increase on their rich friends.

So a little history might be useful for perspective.  Back in 2011, when the President and Congress were arm-wrestling about raising the debt ceiling, the idea of sequestration became part of the Budget Control Act of that year, mostly as a Sword of Damocles to make sure that real cuts would be negotiated – nobody liked the across-the-board spending cuts, which seemed to offer strong motivation to find a better solution.   The arbitrary cuts of $1.2 trillion applied bluntly to discretionary spending would apply if the “Super Committee” had not by Thanksgiving come up with a solution; of course they failed, and sequester loomed.

The sequester became one part of the dreaded Fiscal Cliff that was due to capsize the economy on January 2nd, 2013.  The other part was the set of tax increases, both from expiration of the Bush tax cuts, and from new taxes due to Obamacare, which also came into force at the same time.  Despite Republicans’ insistence that these issues be dealt with jointly, the President pushed for, and won, action on the tax question alone – as readers will remember, taxes went up for “the wealthy,” (and other taxes went up for the decidedly not-wealthy), but the bulk of the Bush rates were preserved.  In all the tax deal resulted in $620 billion in new revenue for the government over the next ten years.  It was a major concession by Republicans, who concluded that a tactical retreat would leave them in a good position to bargain for spending restraint later.

The President, once again offering substantial justification for his opponents’ mistrust, pocketed the concession and came back demanding more.  Blithely ignoring the separation of revenue and spending that had been negotiated just weeks ago, he is again insisting on what he calls a “balanced approach” – which he now says has been agreed in principle by the Republican side – making it look like they are the ones negotiating in bad faith.  

The worst of it is that he is a very gifted demagogue.  And the press love him (my goodness, the Hollywood folks are so gaga that they had Michelle Obama award the Oscar for Best Picture), so few stand up to take him to task for the way he abuses the truth in these campaign events.  But without an opposing voice, his “truth” becomes the accepted one.

It might not be a bad use of Republican National Committee funds to run a nationwide ad campaign to counter the Obamaisms that we hear too much:

1.  Although Obama describes this as the “Republican” sequester, the undisputed fact – verified by Bob Woodward of Watergate fame – is that it was suggested by Jack Lew of the White House (currently nominee to be the next Treasury Secretary).  When Obama said in debate with Mitt Romney last fall that Congress proposed it, he was flat-out lying. He mischaracterizes it to this day.

2.  Not only was it the President’s idea, he was so enamored of the sequester that in November 2011, as the supercommittee approached failure and Congress sought to soften the provision, he said:  “Already, some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts. My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts – domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one.”

3.  The Republicans in the House have at least twice passed legislation to redirect the spending cuts to allow the Executive Branch more flexibility in how they are applied, sparing Defense some of the worst cuts and applying them instead to domestic programs. That legislation, as with so much else that has passed the House, disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle known as Harry Reid’s Senate.  (Incidentally, it should be emphasized that to the extent that Congress is dysfunctional, it is due to the Senate’s failure to enact legislation; the House has passed plenty of bills but the Senate hasn’t even satisfied its legal obligation to pass a budget for the last four years, never mind offering alternative versions of the House bills.)

4.  The President campaigned on a ratio of $2.50 in spending cuts for every dollar of new taxes.  With the passage of the Fiscal Cliff tax hikes on January 2, he owes the American people detail on $1.55 trillion in spending cuts to match it.  What has he said instead?  He wants to raise yet more revenue from the wealthy, this time by enacting “tax reform” as he describes it – which means nothing more than changing the tax code so that certain people pay more.

5.  Most egregiously, instead of trying to work with Congress to arrive at a solution, Obama does what Obama does best: stand behind a microphone in front of adoring crowds, blaming Republicans for his failure to lead.  The other day, it made news that the President actually picked up the phone and called Senate Minority Leader McConnell, and Speaker Boehner.  Big deal.  A phone call.

Regardless of whether the lapdog press makes the case, it is at the end of the day the President’s responsibility to see that the nation’s problems are managed.  This means among other things paying our bills, providing services to the people, caring for the fiscal health of the nation for this generation and succeeding ones.  If he can’t get the deal he wants out of Congress, he should get the best deal he can.  What he should not do is pick up his ball in a huff and stalk off the field, complaining that if things all go to hell it’s the other guys’ fault.

What he doesn’t seem to realize is that all this brinksmanship is what is holding the economy back.  If he was truly interested in jobs, jobs, jobs, he’d focus more on doing his own job.



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