Well, the sequester is upon us. As this Insider has said, the Obama administration is heavily invested in the notion that the sequester will be catastrophic; that it will be a fireable offense for any executive branch manager to be caught successfully mitigating the harm that the budget restrictions might produce. But the Internal Revenue Service seems to be making an easy transition into the budget crisis proclaimed by the Obama administration. It’s funny that the IRS has matter-of-factly announced it won’t be affected, so the Obama quest to tax the most productive sectors of society won’t be diminished. However, we’re still led to believe that orphans and widows are in grave peril.
All this unfolds as President Obama meets this morning with the bipartisan congressional leadership. The outcome of the meeting is predictable, and the Republican leadership is boxed in. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner will go to the meeting and the White House will have a photo op to accompany their talking points that the Republicans are intransigent and that McConnell and Boehner met with Obama but they won’t budge. If the Republicans didn’t attend the meeting, the White House talking points would be that the Republicans are intransigent, that McConnell and Boehner refuse to meet with the president and the Republican leadership won’t budge.
As long as Washington is depressed anyway, it’s worth adding the discouraging thought that the sequester has highlighted how incapable Washington would prove to be if we ever really tried to seriously slow spending and do something about the national debt. If Washington can’t effectively manage this 2.3 percent cut in discretionary spending, Lord knows we are nowhere close to being able to do anything about entitlements. Given that our debt is a cancer that would truly require bipartisan consensus to change, it’s extremely disappointing that the president can’t lead us through this relatively very, very small step toward spending discipline.
Speaking of depressing thoughts, at a time when Washington needs adult leadership, Gene Sperling has revealed himself to have developed a fully partisan edge. I was surprised when he gave a campaign-style speech at The Economic Club of Washington, D.C. in 2011. And now, the episode with investigative journalist and Post associate editor Bob Woodward shows that Sperling hasn’t just developed a partisan edge, he’s become somewhat of a political enforcer.
This wouldn’t matter, except the director of the White House National Economic Council shouldn’t be part of the day-to-day campaign-style politics — especially in a second-term, lame-duck administration. We need “bigness” from a few offices. I always thought Sperling was a little apart from and above the political hand-to-hand combat that others of us tend to wallow in. If Sperling isn’t serious and Jack Lew as Treasury secretary is just an elevated staff person, it makes me wonder where the real maturity on economic issues is going to come from in the Obama White House.