Talk about the chickens coming home to roost. Former Administration honcho, and now Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew took a calculated risk when, in 2011, he proposed the Sequester as a way of forcing a gridlocked Congress to come up with an acceptable plan to bring federal spending under control. It was a dumb idea when it was proposed; it was a dumb deal for both political parties to agree to and it was a dumb move for the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to reject a last-minute Republican proposal to enable the president more flexibility to make sensible judgments about what spending to cut.
To the deficit hawks the Sequester was a bad way to bring spending under control. To the Democrats it morphed into a good way to cause widespread pain they could blame on the Republicans in an effort to take control of the House of Representatives in less than two years. Dumb and dumber.
Nearly everyone accepts the fact that the government spends much too much and that cutting some of the increase in excess of what was spent last year (that’s really what the sequester does) needn’t cause the pain the president and his minions have been inveighing against.
Even the media finally have raised eyebrows at the hyperventilated rhetoric flowing from the White House.
This from ABC News: “The Administration is saying that the Department of transportation cannot squeeze 1.4% of its budget without sending air traffic controllers home and that they cannot find a way to operate effectively this year with a budget that is actually larger than the budget they had last year.”
MSNBC quotes Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich), “…“Maybe at times there’s been an overstatement” (but it’s still a harmful idea, he went onto say).
The Washington Times reports that the “Animal and Plant Inspection Service official Charles Brown said he asked if he could try to spread out the Sequester cuts in his region to minimize the impact, and he said he was told not to do anything that would lessen the dire impacts Congress had been warned of.” Specifically, he was told by his superiors, “We have gone on record with a notification to Congress …that APHIS would eliminate assistance to producers in 24 states…so it is our opinion that however you manage that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be.”
And this from the New York Times: “As the nation’s top Democrat, President Obama has a clear imperative: to ratchet up pressure on Republicans for across-the-board spending cuts by using the power of his office to dramatize the impact on families, businesses and the military.
But as president, Mr. Obama is charged with minimizing the damage from the spending reductions and must steer clear of talking down the economy. A sustained campaign against the cuts by the president could become what one former aide called “a self-fulfilling kind of mess.”
And a “kind of mess” is just what it has become.
President Obama, with an eye to the 2014 mid-term elections (and winning back the House), made what we believe to be a colossal miscalculation. He and his advisors apparently believed that the budget stalemate (and the Sequester that would follow) would be a win-win for the President. So with the country hog-tied with Congressional dysfunction, the President used the State-of-the Union address to propose a cornucopia of progressive initiatives. One can imagine the strategic brainstorming. We offer every so-called progressive interest group a largess. If we succeed (they knew they wouldn’t) we’ll be hailed as heroes and if we fail we’ll have no trouble blaming the Republicans.
The only problem is, neither the public nor the media are falling in line quite as the White House expected. Even the left-leaning Washington Post has reported that the President’s progressive agenda is not about the present, but rather about flipping the House and gaining control of the entire Congress in the next mid-term election.
Much of the public may be ignorant of the nitty-gritty of budgeting, economics and public policy, but they are not stupid. The president’s approval rating is sagging rather than soaring, and the stock market is soaring rather than sagging.
So what went wrong? Well, for one thing, media reporting has gone from gloom and doom to (finally, at long last) asking questions that have the Administration back peddling faster than Aretha Franklin could sing, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
Remember what the press was reporting only a week or so ago. ABC’s Josh Elliott warned, “Hours, now, until massive government cuts go into effect that could impact every American. Jobs vaporizing, flights delayed, even criminals walking free.” Or CNN anchor Carol Costello, “Like an asteroid headed to earth, they’re coming! Eighty-six billion in automatic budget cuts. And don’t bother to duck.” Even Charlie Rose, “Kids without vaccines, schools without teachers.
Of course these dire predictions were merely regurgitations of what the White House had been feeding to the press for weeks. The President had warned that the Sequester would “weaken our military readiness.” He said tens of thousands of parents will scramble to find childcare, and hundreds of thousands would lose access to primary care and preventive care. Forty thousand teachers were going to lose their jobs, and air travelers would suffer huge delays.
The President overplayed his hand much the same way a prosecutor loses a case by overcharging a defendant. Juries don’t always buy that sort of shenanigan and neither do the people. As one liberal lobbyist noted, “the good news is, the world doesn’t end on March 2nd and the bad news is the world doesn’t end on March 2nd. The worst case scenario for us is the sequester hits and nothing bad really happens…”
Even media generally favorable to the President couldn’t help but notice that the Sequester, at its worse, means that over the next ten years government spending growth would only be $44.8 trillion rather than $46 trillion.
We (and now the media) get it. The President and Jack Lew (when he was Obama’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget) were determined to make the cuts across the board lest the people as, Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel pointed out, begin focusing on such federal necessities as: $141,000, to fund a Chinese study on swine manure, $325,000 to, in part, build a robotic squirrel, $340 million for conferences, or $500,000 for specialty shampoo products for cats and dogs.
And this from essayist Peter Solomon: “The “Lifeline” program Congress authorized in 1984 provided for home telephone access to anyone earning less than 135% of the Federal poverty level or anyone receiving any one of a host of Federal welfare benefits…Originally, Congress estimated a yearly cost of $50 Million. In 2008, the Bush Administration added cell phones to the Lifeline Program and, at the end of the Bush term; the yearly Lifeline cost had grown to about $825 Million. By the end of President Obama’s first term, the cost had mushroomed to $2.2 Billion…Last year, the Federal Communications Commission, suspecting widespread abuse and fraud, began an investigation into the Lifeline program and determined that, of the 6 million current Lifeline subscribers, as many as 2.4 million should have been ruled ineligible and were “gaming” the system…”
The list, of course, goes on and on. We count over 1600 funding programs (exclusive of Defense) among the various federal budget accounts, many of which could no doubt be streamlined, if not eliminated. But being judicious about what to cut was the antithesis of what the White House had in mind when it proposed the Sequester.
The President, at his March 1st press conference, finally admitted that the Sequester (his White House sold to Congress) wasn’t the apocalypse. It was, he said, “just plain dumb.” Indeed, he is correct. We shouldn’t forget, however, who the dummies were.