Best commentary on the sequester issue

From Peter Wehner:

In the Great Sequestration Debate, here’s what we know: (a) The president has paternity of an idea he now characterizes as a brutal and senseless assault on America. (b) The president and his then-chief of staff, Jack Lew, misled the public about their role in giving birth to the sequester idea. (c) House Republicans have twice passed legislation to avoid the sequester cuts with carefully targeted ones, but Senate Democrats refused to act. (d) Mr. Obama has brushed off a Republican plan to give him flexibility to allocate the $85 billion in spending cuts, which makes no sense if the president wants to replace reckless cuts with responsible ones.

Whatever one thinks about the merits of cutting $85 billion out of an almost $3.6 trillion budget, the effort to portray the cuts as ushering in days of tribulation, distress and anguish, of trouble and ruin, of darkness and gloom is–how to put this?–insane.

If the sequester cuts go into effect, domestic agencies would have to cut 5 percent from their budgets after having received a 17-percent increase during the president’s first term (not counting the more than a quarter-of-a-trillion stimulus bonus). And our budget this fiscal year would still be larger (by some $15 billion) than it was in the last fiscal year.

But what makes this particular episode somewhat different than past ones is that Mr. Obama has supplemented his demagoguery with a touch of cruelty. That is, he has made it clear that he wants to inflict as much harm as possible on Americans in order to make the cuts live up to the hype. The president’s greatest fear is that the sequester cuts will kick in and life will go on. So he’s threatening to pass over wasteful programs in order to target more essential ones.

Emily Holubowich–a Washington health-care lobbyist who leads a coalition of 3,000 nonprofit groups fighting the cuts–gave away the game in her comments to the Washington Post. “The good news is, the world doesn’t end March 2. The bad news is, the world doesn’t end March 2,” Ms. Holubowich said. “The worst-case scenario for us is the sequester hits and nothing bad really happens. And Republicans say: See, that wasn’t so bad” (h/t Charles Krauthammer).

So we have the president determined to administer as much pain as he can on Americans even as he excoriates Republicans for their “meat-cleaver approach” that will “eviscerate” key programs.

It is really quite remarkable, this concoction of willful deceptions, hyperbole, demagoguery, mismanagement, and deliberate harm. And to think that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Barack Obama promised to put an end to cynicism. Instead he has added massively to it. The harm he is doing to our political culture is very nearly incalculable.

via Obama Demagoguery Supplemented by a Touch of Cruelty « Commentary Magazine.

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  • fws

    Can you footnote this part please Dr Veith?

    (d) Mr. Obama has brushed off a Republican plan to give him flexibility to allocate the $85 billion in spending cuts, which makes no sense if the president wants to replace reckless cuts with responsible ones.

    Also this: Isn´t it the function of Congress , specifically the republican controlled house, to do this task? Why are they punting to the President here?

    Your article sorta does not pass the smell test if one steps back and looks at the big Picture.

  • fws

    Why not just give the President a line item veto?
    Now THAT would be a solution wouldn´t it? But would that be constitutional at the federal level?

  • @fws, Is it “punting” to say that they’ll let the administration choose how to apportion the cuts since the Senate seems to have no interest (as the article mentions) in making an effort to control the cuts? I don’t think so. But they are trying to pass the blame for any negative effects (just like the president is doing).

  • Gene Veith

    From the LA Times:

    “President Obama rejected Republican suggestions Tuesday that he should have more power to carry out $85 billion in pending budget cuts, and instead urged Congress to work out a better solution that involves raising revenue through taxes on the wealthy.

    Obama told shipyard workers that he doesn’t want responsibility for apportioning the looming “sequester” cuts because there is no wise way to do it.

    “The problem is, when you’re cutting $85 billion in seven months,” Obama said, “there’s no smart way to do that. You don’t want to have to choose between, ‘Let’s see, do I close funding for the disabled kid, or the poor kid? Do I close this Navy shipyard or some other?'”

  • fjsteve

    Mr. Wehner might want to be careful. If he keeps implying Obama was in any way responsible for the budget cuts he’s like to get a “friendly” nasty-gram from the Obama team. Followed by some sly character assassination.

  • Joe

    Frank – congress has the power of the purse to fund or not to fund things. Giving the executive branch a budget of X dollars and then saying to it, spend it wisely its all you get is not necessarily an abdication of its responsibility. Over the years, congress has put specific limits on how certain funds may or may not be spent. When this is done to prevent the executive from exceeding its constitutional powers it is great. Unfortunately it is usually done to ensure money gets spent on things that powerful congressman think are important (and likely in their district). When this happens it is bad governance. The President has a lot of flexibility in many areas re: the sequester but in other areas there are things that cannot be cut.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Gene, – that is only the best commentary if you keep one eye shut (the eye that surveys the GOP). Here is a good one from David Gergen (CNN):

    (CNN) – In travels this week — to Boston, Chicago, New York — friends and strangers alike have said the same thing: They are turned off and tuned out of the sequestration mess in Washington. To a person, they are sick of the antics of those to whom they have entrusted enormous power.
    In times past, a president has usually risen to the demands of leadership when a Congress has stubbornly resisted tough choices, such as the upcoming mandatory budget cuts that are called sequestration.
    That’s what Lyndon Johnson did in persuading key Republicans to help pass the civil rights bills of 1964 and 1965. And that’s what Bill Clinton did in working with a Republican House led by Newt Gingrich. People forget how hostile House Republicans were to Clinton — hell, they impeached him — but he nonetheless worked with them to pass four straight balanced budgets and an overhaul of welfare.
    In other times, Congress has displayed serious leadership when a president has lost his way. That’s what Congress did to curtail overseas military ventures after two presidents in a row got us into a quagmire in Vietnam. And that’s what top congressmen like Sam Ervin and Howard Baker did when Richard Nixon went off the tracks in Watergate.
    But today, we have a rare moment when both Congress and the president are retreating from their responsibilities. It’s hard to recall a time when we were so leaderless.
    One of the foremost duties of Congress is to pass a budget: It has failed for four straight years. Republicans, especially in the House, have continually refused to meet the White House halfway. Meanwhile, a president who promised to be a solution has become part of the problem. Ever since his re-election, Barack Obama has seemed more intent on campaigning than governing.

    From here:

  • Politics is not about governance; it is about theater.
    The Democrates are acting on this truth, while the Republicans seem unaware of it.

  • kerner

    Pr. Spomer:

    That would explain why the last really politically effective Republican president was trained as an actor.

  • Joe

    The GOP already meet the president half way already. Late last year, he said he wanted tax increases and spending cuts. The balanced approach we all heard and still hear about. The GOP gave him his his tax increase already (they are twice as large as the sequestration by the way). The GOP agreed to those taxes in large part because he promised to help identify sensible cuts “later.” The cuts later part is why the sequestration did not happen Jan 1 but were pushed till march. But instead of identifying the cuts he would like to see he started campaign on the need for a balanced approach that includes tax increases and cuts. He acts as if the tax increases (147 billion dollars worth) that the GOP agreed to late last year never happened and uses the lack of new taxes as a reason to reject any proffered alternative cuts.

  • kerner

    A Wisconsin Congressman (Ribble) said on the Radio this morning that, even after the Sequester “cuts” the Federal expenditures for 2013 will still be $15 billion MORE than federal expenditures for 2012. And that is why the American people can’t get too upset over this. Is there anyone who really believes that it would be some kind of dissaster if we spend only $15 billion more than last year? Besides President Obama, I mean.

  • kerner, good point.

  • OK, I have heard that the GOP leadership offered the power of allocation of cuts to Mr. Obama, but really that’s probably just so they can hammer him on another Solyndra kind of thing that Obama is so apt to spend money on.

    My take is that the GOP needs to take Pr. Spomer notes seriously and convey a coherent plan for reducing the deficit to the public. I would start by defunding the Departments of Energy and Education in toto, explaining that 40 years and a trillion dollars worth of expense or so is long enough to figure out that the federal government doesn’t do this well.

  • sg

    “That’s what Lyndon Johnson did in persuading key Republicans to help pass the civil rights bills of 1964 and 1965.”

    Uh, shouldn’t that be key Democrats?

    The civil rights act had more support among Republicans than Democrats.

    Among those opposed, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 3 to 1.

    When he already had 80% of Republicans voting for it, it was Democrats he needed. There were no key Republicans to persuade because they were already in support.

  • sg

    @ 7

    Gergen must be unaware that we have a Senate.

    If the House passes a bill and sends it to the Senate which never votes on it, how is it that the House and President are to blame for the inaction of the Senate?

  • sg

    This quote is from last year, but it pretty well sums up the priorities of Senators:

    “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, who he said will not call important votes to the floor for fear Democratic incumbents will be required to cast “tough votes” before the election.

    The powerful manage to get done what they want to get done. They just aren’t interested in stuff that benefits the country as a whole as much as they do about themselves, their positions and their benefactors.

  • P.C.

    A repost of my comments a few days ago which are still germane.

    If the Congress, that is, the Democrat controlled Senate, would pass a budget we would not be in this sequestration mess. But its been three plus years since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his ilk considered doing their constitutional duty. By the way, President Obama is also late in submitting his proposed budget but that is par for the course. Therefore, every couple of months we have fiscal cliffs, sequestations, and debt ceiling limits to contend with. Certainly, not a way to conduct business much less a republic.

  • JR

    This old song keeps going through my mind, It’s the end of the world as we know it; it’s the end of the world as we know it. I feel fine.”

  • DonS

    The Republican House has passed a budget both years since it regained power in 2011. The Democratic Senate has not passed a budget since Obama took office. The Obama budget has never passed either house of Congress and has garnered only a handful of Democratic votes, let alone Republican ones.

    So, Mr. Gergen (from Klasie’s article @ 7, how in the heck do you come to the conclusion that the Republicans are not meeting the Democrats halfway? So far, when it comes to budgeting, the Democrats haven’t even entered the building.

    We need to cut a trillion dollars in spending, annually, to bring the budget into balance. This pathetic sequester isn’t even a reasonable down payment on what really needs to be done.

  • sg

    Does anyone remember Cut Cap and Balance?,_Cap_and_Balance_Act

    I am not saying it was a great bill. I have no idea, but Reid just tabled it. He could have sent it to committee to make changes and send it back to the House. I mean, even if it had gone back unrecognizable, it would have at least shown some effort. It seems almost like they want Republicans to pass some massive tax increase with no cuts to anything and then send the Senate a bill that Obama will be just thrilled to sign. That is just goofy.

  • Adrianne

    excellent points, fws. Republicans would like to transfer the appearance of blame to the President. wont work.

  • Grace


    Breaking News CNN:

    Sixty-thousand federal workers responsible for securing borders have been told they will face furloughs beginning in mid-April because of forced spending cuts.

    U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it expects the furloughs and other budget actions will increase wait times at ports of entry, including international arrivals at airports and reduce the number of Border Patrol officers on duty at any time. “

    Sequester Cuts ?