But none of those policies have come close to being enacted. Instead, after returning this weekend from a trip to the Middle East, Obama is set to sign a government funding measure that leaves in place the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration — a policy that undermines many of the goals he laid out during the 2012 campaign.
Obama thinks the cuts are, in his words, “dumb,” and he says they will slow the economy and harm priorities by cutting spending on education, research and development, and many other programs. Yet Obama now finds himself enacting a broad domestic policy that he doesn’t support and that he believes will harm the country.
“What he got in terms of the sequester is clearly incompatible with his investment plans,” said Jared Bernstein, a former White House economic adviser.
Obama is in this predicament after failing to persuade congressional Republicans to agree to a plan of tax hikes and more targeted spending cuts to replace the sequester. The president misjudged his GOP opponents, who have held firm in opposing more tax increases and, so far, have decided to stomach the sequester cuts.
House Republicans, who passed a budget last week with even deeper domestic spending cuts than the sequester, say Obama should be able to manage the government with significantly less spending.
“We want to restrain spending. They want to spend more,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said last week after passing the House budget. “We think taxpayers give enough to Washington.”
One of the clearest examples of Obama’s dilemma is early-childhood education, a centerpiece of his State of the Union speech in February. Obama has proposed offering preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families, which research suggests would help move children up the economic ladder.
The idea isn’t cheap. W. Steven Barnett, the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers, who was consulted by the White House, has estimated it could cost up to $10 billion a year.
Rather than raising new funds to pay to expand early-childhood education, however, Obama is now being forced to slash it. The sequester this year will cut about $400 million from the Head Start early-childhood education program, which will mean that tens of thousands of poor children would lose access to it, according to the administration.
“It’s not in the right direction, and it is disappointing,” Barnett said.