Sequester Fatigue

David Gergen:

You agree?

(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.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Bill McReynolds

    The Republicans have already met the President halfway, giving him most of the tax increases he wanted. Now, it is his turn, and he seems only to want to blame Congress for what was his idea–sequestration.

  • Jeremy

    I’m sure the president holds part of the blame, but I’m not sure why that tired line makes no sense to me – Congress passes laws. Even if the sequestration was Obama’s idea, they had to say “sure, lets do it.” It was SUPPOSED to suck. Sadly, we’ve elected school children to congress (Not surprising since the rest of us are acting like them too) that think letting sequestration happen is better than figuring things out.

    I will start blaming the President when congress actually manages to pass a budget and he vetoes it. His job is to suggest a budget and it’s congress’s job to sort out the details and pass it into law. He’s suggested. Not liking it is not an excuse for sitting on your hands and crying about it.

  • Jeremy

    that should have said “that tired line makes sense to anyone”

  • SSG

    There are lots of failures all around. One of the failures is our own: these are the leaders we elected. The last campaign was a very confrontational, us v them campaign. And so how surprised that the government resulting from that campaign is acting similarly?

  • Don

    It’s the responsibility of Democrat controlled Senate to vote on a budget. The Senate has refused to come up with a budget since Obama has been president.

  • RobS

    I’ll agree both sides are failing. I’m not sure we should expect Congress to approve the budget being Republican controlled. Typically, the two houses work it out in committee first. That said, last year, the 2012 budget was rejected by the Senate (99-0) and House (413-0) which says something about the process. Nothing’s perfect of course, but no one liked it. I believe Congress was hoping the Democrats in the Senate & White House would work out a solution that at least the Democrats would believe in. That’s hard for them politically (cuts, taxes, and fiscal discipline) can’t all happen to keep their base happy)

    Congress offered two slight alternatives to how the sequestration money would be spent — neither went anywhere. And yes, the President played golf with Tiger, did his press conference with the first responders, and then went to Newport News, Virginia to put forth his campaign message.

    He could have really scored some points on leadership, getting his way, and pressuring the Republicans by playing his cards the right way. He took the campaign road instead.

    All said, if you liked the Y2K Panic, Harold Camping panic, and the Mayan “end of the world” panic, then you should be loving the sequester panic.

  • Robin

    It is worth noting that the level of spending in the sequester is exactly equal to the level of spending in the President’s most recent proposed budget. Jeff Sachs, who is no friend of Republicans, pointed this out yesterday.

    Let me say that again, had the Senate passed the President’s proposed budget last year, we would be facing the exact same level of spending that we are facing in the sequester. Apparently that level of spending was sufficient for a budget proposal, but for some reason will now guarantee the doom of the entire universe. The duplicity by all parties is astounding.

  • Kenton

    First of all BRING ON THE SEQUESTRATION!!!

    It’s not perfect, but at least it means trimming the budget instead of ballooning it like we’ve been doing.

    Am I tired of the bickering as it looms overhead? Yeah, I’m tired of that. I have to side with Boener, though. The House has passed two bills and rather than make changes to it, pass it and send it back to the House, the Senate just sits on its @$$. POTUS isn’t helping matters. As noted, he only proposes ridiculous budgets. Methinks the modus operandi of the dems is to sit on its @$$ and just blame Republicans. The GOP has been playing into their hands up until now. It looks like this time their calling the bet. Good for them.

  • Adam

    I propose we go with the Mayan budget. That makes more sense.

  • Clay Knick

    I used to be interested in politics and government and what was going on. I was a history major as an undergraduate and remain and history lover and a history buff. Now, nothing bores me more than our current crop of politicians from both parties. Read that again: both parties. I’d like to vote against them both.

  • Tom F.

    If you want to do something about political division in Washington, do something about it at home. Ask yourself: do I ever have discussions with those on the opposite side that result in me sometimes having to (painfully) reconsider what I think? (Online doesn’t count; too impersonal.)

    If you never or rarely have those sort of conversations, than ask yourself why you expect those in Washington to do any different. Lots evidence is accumulating that Americans are finding ways to avoid contact with those different from them; and it is poisoning our political culture.

  • Joshua

    Some of the comments above remind me of a bit I once heard by comedian, Jeff Ross, who said something to the effect of: It’s as though two guys went out hunting, and in the course of the hunt, the animal they were hunting fell on top of both of them, and instead of using their collective strength to push the animal off of them, they decide to waste their energy by arguing with each other over whose idea it was to go hunting in the first place.

    This will affect ALL of us, and it is the responsibility of Congress and the President, Democrats and Republicans, to work out some compromise.

    “It’s not the President’s fault, it’s actually congress.”

    “Oh wait, stop there – it’s not congress, it’s actually the Democrat-controlled Senate.”

    “Well actually there’s enough Republicans in the Senate to stymie and crush anything the Democrats suggest, so it’s actually the Republicans, not the Democrats.”

    I have heard once or twice, “If only we had a government as good as the people.”

    The problem is, we do.

    Instead of solving our problems, we decide what’s really important is first figuring out whose fault it is. That way, even though we’re in the same exact predicament we were in before, at least we can feel better knowing that it’s not our fault.

  • Jeremy

    Joshua, I was going to comment that you can tell which side of the spectrum we fall on by our comments (myself included!). That seems to me to be a pretty good indicator that the answer to who’s at fault is “all of them.”

  • RobS

    Well, March 1st and my world hasn’t imploded… hope everyone else is doing well.

    I guess the most depressing thing is that politics has moved from what could be, “different opinions but willing to work on things that will hopefully be good for the country” and we have moved to, “blame the other side, no constructive efforts, unwillingness to meet and communicate”.

    I can’t imagine that Boener and Obama couldn’t have synchronized schedules to come up with an hour or two for a sit-down if they both thought it was worth it. Obviously, they didn’t, so it didn’t matter enough for them both.

    I’ll still vote for term limits if given the chance …

  • Tony Springer

    I asked my college students about the sequester and all I got were blank stares. When I explained the sequester and that student aid was one of the cuts, all I got were scared stares.

  • AHH

    RobS @14,

    There are laws that require a notification period (I think 30 days) before government employees can be furloughed. So it will be several weeks before seeing effects like fewer air traffic controllers and TSA screeners, reduced service at national parks, less food safety inspection, etc. Some contractors who depend on government business will lose their jobs faster than that.

    One thing that disappoints me (full disclosure: I work for a US government science agency) is that Obama has not made any effort to forge a compromise this time. In the past couple of crises, such as the recent “fiscal cliff”, while Congress (especially the Republicans but also to some extent the Democrats) has been playing politics, Obama has pushed hard to get a solution where all sides compromised, often looking like the only adult in the room. This time such Presidential leadership has been lacking.
    I saw an encouraging story today where Obama was looking to push for a compromise in conjunction with the next deadline (potential government shutdown in late March) that would involve closing some tax breaks for the wealthy and trimming cost-of-living increases for various benefit programs (including my eventual pension), which I think would be a good thing. But with politicized hardliners resisting in both parties, not clear if such a deal can get anywhere.

  • Rick

    If David Gergen expects Obama to bully Congress like LBJ used to, he’s insane. Different times, different Congress, different President. Johnson had a friendly Congress, Obama doesn’t. Johnson intimidated and wheeled and dealed and laid it on thick, whereas Obama can’t even get Boehner to return his calls. I think Gergen is trying to play the “both sides are bad” card, when anyone with any objectivity knows the extremist Republican House has set up another phony crisis and is playing zero-sum politics. They’re on record as wanting to destroy Obama, and everything they’ve done seems to suggest they haven’t given up that goal.

  • Karen Spears Zacharias

    I think in this noisy world where media amps up the volume on absolutely everything, people are just worn out with the alarms. That said it can also be true that alarms are warranted but not heeded.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/robertcrosby/ Robert Crosby

    Add to it the fact that the Catholic Church is also without a leader, as the Pope has chosen to retire. It is an odd time in our world as it lacks peace on many fronts and aches for confident, compelling and peace-making leadership.

  • Andrew

    Sorry, but the simple fact is one side has been willing to compromise and the other hasn’t. The GOP are acting like the 2012 election never happened and the American public supported the guy who proposed turning Medicare into a voucher program and no new taxes on the wealthy. Obama has offered entitlement reform numerous times and the GOP just stick their fingers in their ears like spoiled little toddler brats. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/03/02/this-is-why-obama-cant-make-a-deal-with-republicans/

  • Joshua

    @ Andrew, I have to agree. I think we all know that both sides share blame, but one side has been excessively stubborn and unwilling to compromise unless it involves straining the original plan until it is a withered husk. Look at what happened to the fiscal cliff; on the deadline, even.

    Also, I’ve never understood blaming the president for what other people (don’t) do. You can be a reasonable leader, but you can’t force people to work with you if they hate your guts.

  • James

    First off, most of the sequester hype is just that. It’s been a Niagara Falls of cynical spin and fear-mongering from all corners. It has been so silly, that neither party has even been consistent over the past year as to who was pro and con! Remember “I voted before it before I voted against it?” That’s what we have here on both sides.

    I was thinking this morning that the White House has it all wrong. If they really want to score a victory, they would stop griping, stop trying to publicize every way in which the sequester is “hurting” us, and would instead rally their leaders throughout the government to find ways to make the sequester work by trimming unnecessary fat and making sure that all the “cuts” (really just decreases in spending growth) come in the least impactful way. They really could do that quite easily with a focus on leadership over politics, and there would actually be political gain anyway. The president could then come out and say that his leadership had resulted in overcoming the hardship of “cuts” and actually made the government sounder, trimmer, and more efficient. That’s what Clinton did, and it worked out is a net win/win. Of course, that’s the problem. We no longer have leadership on either side (this is reflective of the populace, though we’d like to deny that) that seek win/win solutions.

    The only thing bipartisan about our current government is that both sides are acting like children.


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