February 20, 2013

President Obama seems to be overplaying his hand badly in the sequestration face-off. He’d have us believe that in a nearly $4 trillion budget we’d have to fire first responders to come up with $85 billion in cuts.

Even the New York Times cries foul:

President Obama on Tuesday painted a dire picture of federal government operations across the United States should automatic budget cuts hit on March 1: F.B.I. agents furloughed, criminals released, flights delayed, teachers and police officers laid off and parents frantic to find a place for children locked out of day care centers. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go,” Mr. Obama said, flanked by law enforcement officers at the White House. “Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids.”  While the effects may ultimately be significant, many are unlikely to be felt immediately, officials said Tuesday after the president’s remarks. Rather, they will ripple gradually across the federal government as agencies come to grips in the months ahead with across-the-board cuts to all their programs.

It calls his parade of horribles fiction.  “But officials conceded that day care centers are almost certainly not going to be padlocked on March 1. Border patrols will be staffed throughout that day and the days to come. Federal agents will continue to conduct investigations, and criminals will not immediately be  ‘let go,’ as Mr. Obama suggested.”

In other words, he is making stuff up to scare voters. You know how weak the claim of governmental chaos is if he has to resort to this hooey. Apparently he is not capable of leveling with voters.

This tantrum sure does explain why we’ve never gotten a grand bargain. This president is allergic to the most modest reductions in spending. Republicans correctly see that unless they hold fast, the endless cycle of higher spending, higher taxes and more borrowing will continue for the remainder of Obama’s term. In reaching such a fever pitch over such a small percentage of the budget, Obama has given Republicans even more reason to hold firm.

(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

House Speaker John Boehner explains for the umpteenth time that the president isn’t going to get away with a bait and switch this time. He writes in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that the problem is not the amount of the sequester, but its disproportionate impact on defense spending and exemption for entitlements. He argues:

What Congress should do is replace it with other spending cuts that put America on the path to a balanced budget in 10 years, without threatening national security.

Having first proposed and demanded the sequester, it would make sense that the president lead the effort to replace it. Unfortunately, he has put forth no detailed plan that can pass Congress, and the Senate—controlled by his Democratic allies—hasn’t even voted on a solution, let alone passed one. By contrast, House Republicans have twice passed plans to replace the sequester with common-sense cuts and reforms that protect national security.

The president has repeatedly called for even more tax revenue, but the American people don’t support trading spending cuts for higher taxes. They understand that the tax debate is now closed.

And that is the crux of the matter: The president won’t reallocate the spending cuts he denounces as a “meat cleaver” approach to budgeting. Instead he wants to put some of that aside in favor of tax increases. The Post editorial board rightly calls foul, noting that “loophole-closing to pay for other planned reforms, and the millionaire’s tax, though base-pleasing for Democrats, amounts to restoring the just-repealed alternative minimum tax.”

Why is the president so panic-stricken over sequester cuts he put into the Budget Control Act and which he knew for months were coming? Perhaps it is the realization that the House won’t be forced into raising taxes any more. Maybe it is the recognition that the growth of the liberal welfare state, which he championed, is getting short-circuited. Or then again this may simply be another in the long list of fights in which pinning the GOP’s ears back is more important to him than good policy.

Truth be told, some of the allocation problem can be handled in the next continuing resolution (the current one runs out on March 27), and we all know budget cutting in the out years can always be reversed. So this is mostly a fight about a simple question: Is the president ever going to be forced to control spending? The president recites endlessly the mantra of a “balanced” approach to the debt. He got his tax hikes; Republicans will now insist they get the spending cut portion of the “balanced” deal.

From here on out Republicans should hold tight. If that means running the government on continuing resolutions for the rest of the Obama presidency, well, maybe that’s a plus. At least we won’t take on more unaffordable spending. Tapering down the rate of spending increases is what Republicans have wanted to do. Now they have the mechanism to do it. No wonder Obama and the liberal punditocracy are setting their hair on fire. The Republicans’ tactic might just work.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.