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President Obama’s sequester sleight of hand

Roy Blunt, a Republican, represents Missouri in the Senate.

Never mind that sequestration was originally President Obama’s idea — an idea he later called “dumb.” Forget that he threatened to “veto any effort to get rid of the automatic spending cuts.”

As the deadline loomed for Washington to implement the 2.4 percent in spending cuts, the president didn’t tell his Cabinet agencies to reprioritize spending, nor did he ask Congress for more flexibility to protect the economy and bolster public safety. Instead, he did what everyone agrees he’s really good at: He took to the campaign trail. This time, his goal was to scare the public by making sequestration hurt average Americans.

Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go,” the president said Feb. 19. “Air-traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country. Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.”

The president’s Cabinet members quickly joined in with their own ominous warnings.

There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“The public could suffer more food-borne illness, such as the recent salmonella-in-peanut-butter outbreak and the E. coli illnesses linked to organic spinach,” cautioned a memo from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

And the Department of Homeland Security would be forced to allow more illegal immigrants into the country and compromise national security, thanks to border-control furloughs, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Many of these claims were ultimately deemed false — but Obama didn’t give up on his “sequester” scare campaign. As students prepared for spring-break trips to the nation’s capital, the president hastily canceled self-guided White House tours. He didn’t cancel his own vacation to Hawaii or avoid golfing with Tiger Woods in February. But he did deny children the chance to see the White House for one reason: to ensure that sequestration hurt average Americans.

Last week we witnessed another step in the president’s strategy. His administration announced that it would furlough approximately 47,000 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), causing needless flight delays for travelers and air freight. Less than a week after the furloughs took effect, Congress stepped in to fix the problem — but not before thousands of flights had been abruptly and unnecessarily disrupted.

All of this was avoidable. The president could have targeted these spending cuts and slashed wasteful federal spending to use taxpayer dollars more wisely. The FAA could have made a standard request to Congress for 5 percent in spending flexibility to prioritize resources, including the $2.7 billion the agency spends annually on non-personnel costs. Instead, the OMB repeatedly told Cabinet secretaries to behave as though the law wouldn’t take effect in the months leading up to sequestration — an egregious move that I discussed during a recent speech on the Senate floor, when I submitted the OMB’s July 31 and Sept. 28 letters for the record.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration rejected every long-term solution that my colleagues and I proposed. Those included a bill that I introduced with bipartisan support to ensure that “essential” federal employees would still report to work in the wake of sequestration. This legislation would not cost taxpayers a dime — it would simply apply the same standards to furloughs that the administration applies to essential federal employees required to work during inclement weather or other government shutdowns. The administration also rejected legislation, introduced by my colleagues Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), that would give the president more flexibility until the end of the fiscal year.

There is mismanagement, and there is intentional mismanagement. Government spending has skyrocketed 19 percent in four years. President Obama should be able to cut 2.4 percent in federal spending responsibly. Last month, the House and Senate sent the president their own directions on where to get the money, and I’ve co-sponsored several short-term fixes, including a provision that was signed into law to protect private-sector jobs by ensuring that food inspection facilities are not closed because of furloughs.

Washington can live within its means without canceling White House tours, forcing travelers to sit on a tarmac, delaying freight shipments to the workplace or threatening children and their hardworking parents. But that hasn’t stopped Obama from trying to hold spending cuts hostage in an attempt to force Congress to pass more tax hikes.

Unfortunately for the president, Americans can see right through it.

 
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