Never underestimate the White House’s ability to mislead voters or the willingness of lefty pundits and mainstream media journalists (some overlap there) to be misled. The New York Times reports:
President Obama’s team concedes that the almost certain arrival of across-the-board budget cuts on Friday will not immediately produce the politically dramatic layoffs and airport delays that the administration has been warning about for days.
But White House strategists say they believe that a constant drip-drip-drip of bad news will slowly emerge in Congressional districts across the country in the weeks ahead, generating negative headlines and — they hope — putting Republicans on the defensive for their refusal to raise taxes.
Yet by accepting the inevitability of an extended Washington stalemate, the president is risking the possibility that Americans will eventually blame him — not members of Congress — for job losses, smaller paychecks, longer lines at airports, a reduction in government services and a less well-equipped military.
He could also ultimately emerge as a kind of president-who-cried-wolf if Americans just shrug at the slow-rolling budget cuts and think the crisis atmosphere that Mr. Obama created was more hype than reality. On Tuesday, the president began admitting that the impact of the cuts “won’t be felt overnight.”
So the president’s saying never mind? But we should mind the lengths to which the White House has gone to scare and fabricate the dangers of the sequester. Like the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, shouldn’t there be some media soul-searching about how gullible they are and how unwilling to probe for facts? Don’t hold your breath.
Meanwhile, Republicans have caught on. House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman is eager to point to a letter to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement release from House Homeland Security Committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), which reads in part:
I am concerned about the recent announcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release a large number of detained persons. This decision reflects the lack of resource prioritization within the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is indicative of the Department’s weak stance on national security.
Congress mandated and provided resources to maintain 34,000 bed spaces for illegal immigrant detainees. As of last week, ICE reported 30,773 spaces filled, in clear violation of statute. I am also concerned that these releases were undertaken without notification to the appropriate Congressional oversight committees.
He then requests appropriate information to verify these claims.
After the sequester goes into effect, the relevant House and Senate committees should call up each and every one of these cabinet officials and agency heads who went out to fear-monger. Did they misrepresent the facts? Did they intentional frighten Americans for partisan gain? There is no reason to let such a full-blown disinformation campaign go uninvestigated.
Moreover, it has become evident that the president and the various government agencies already have a fair bit of latitude in administering the cuts. The former associate director at the OMB James Capretta and Tevi Troy explain:
In nearly all agencies, within various budget accounts, it is possible to impose deeper cuts on administrative functions and non-essential grant-making while leaving front-line service provision intact. For instance, in the Food and Drug Administration, the budget account for food safety includes both direct public-health-protection efforts and administrative functions. A responsible step would be to order agencies to tilt the cuts toward non-essential spending within budget accounts as much as possible.
Moreover, Congress generally provides agencies with the ability to transfer some amount of funds between appropriated accounts. Those authorities are not rescinded by the sequester, so the administration also has the ability to move funding from less sensitive to more sensitive accounts if it chooses to do so. . . .
In dealing with the sequester, the administration appears to favor the “Washington Monument” strategy — making all cuts as painful and prominent as possible for maximum political leverage. This is a reprise of the playbook used to great effect by President Bill Clinton against Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 1990s. But the 1990s showdown was a confrontation over a full government shutdown. When the sequester hits next month, the federal government will continue full operations and, with some creativity, could do so with little discernible drop in public services.
In the hands of a president committed to responsible deficit reduction, sequestration could be a powerful tool for good. The sequester that the president and his team proposed is a blunt instrument that is far less desirable than sensibly targeted cuts, but that is no reason to administer it irresponsibly.
However, in the 1990’s new media weren’t around to bird-dog the administration. Now they are.
With regard to the Defense budget, the authors explain that “even here, there are administrative options for mitigating the sequester’ s impact. Specifically, Republicans should push for maximum flexibility for moving the cuts within the Department of Defense to subaccounts that can be replenished later, such as long-term equipment upgrades, and wherever possible away from operations subaccounts that are directly related to short-term readiness.”
The Wall Street journal editorial board makes a similar observation:
Programs, projects and activities are a technical category of the federal budget, but the sequester actually occurs at the roughly 1,200 broader units known as budget accounts. Some accounts are small, but others contain hundreds of PPAs [ projects, programs and activities] and the larger accounts run to billions of dollars. For the Pentagon in particular, the distinction between PPAs and accounts is huge. This means in most cases the President has the room to protect his “investments” while managing the fiscal transition over time.
Republicans should be clear about just how egregiously the White House has hyped the sequester. And responsible news organizations should review their own coverage (including all those charts and graphs about the pain to be inflicted on each state), coming clean about how badly they fell for the president’s act.