The White House scare strategy is getting threadbare as more and more stories confirm that the chaos it predicts is phony. In fact, the White House and its Senate allies have blown it on a number of grounds:
1. The Democratic alternative actually adds to the debt. The Associated Press reports: “White House-backed legislation in the Senate to replace $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts would raise the deficit through the end of the budget year by tens of billions of dollars, officials said late Wednesday as the two parties maneuvered for public support on economic issues. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that under the Democratic measure, deficits also would rise in each of the next two years before turning downward.”
2. The president doesn’t have an end game. As Michael Barone put it, the continuing resolution gives the House the final say:
House Republicans . . .reportedly been preparing a continuing resolution funding the government until September at sequester levels and also giving the Defense Department leeway to apportion the cuts according to priorities rather than across the board. They might consider giving the same leeway to Homeland Security. (Disclosure of personal interest: I’m a frequent flyer.)
Obama says that would be unacceptable without revenue increases. But Senate Democrats have been quoted anonymously as saying they would pretty much have to go along.
That would leave Obama in an uncomfortable position. A veto would defund the government. Does he want to do that when the Democratic-majority Senate as well as the Republican-controlled House has given him a viable alternative?
3. Having eliminated respected officials, the White House lacks a respected economic figure. There is a price to be paid for putting the partisan budget-manipulator Jack Lew in as Treasury secretary and shedding a series of heavyweight economic advisers (such as Christine Romer and Larry Summers). The White House hacks don’t project a sense of authority, revealing themselves and their boss to be partisan operators.
4. The mainstream media aren’t helping the White House. Despite efforts to enlist the mainstream media in the scare campaign, the White House is powerless when conscientious reporters call foul on the White House sequester hysteria. (When certain members of the press attack their own, they comically confirm the impression they are no better than White House stenographers.)
5. The White House became petty. It is bad enough to try to muscle Bob Woodward, but when political stooge David Plouffe takes to Twitter to pronounce Woodward is akin to a fading baseball player, he and the entire White House hit a new, juvenile low.
6. The White House incorrectly assumed voters don’t want cuts. The president made a cardinal error is proposing tax hikes in lieu of spending cuts. But as the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll vividly showed, a large plurality of voters want more cuts. (“Nearly four in 10, say they would prefer even deeper cuts. And while a majority of Republicans, and 49% of independents, think the sequester is a bad idea, both groups show strong support for either the cuts contained in the sequester or for still deeper cuts.”)
7. The president can’t claim a mandate on this one. Unlike the expiration of the Bush tax cuts that Obama campaigned on, he never suggested he wouldn’t go forward with the sequester. In fact, he repeatedly vowed to veto efforts to replace it.
8. Celebrity doesn’t equate with persuasion. The president and first lady are ubiquitous (if not obnoxious) in their flurry of self-promotion and pop culture invasion. They take false comfort in seeing that the president is better liked than Republicans. Voters nevertheless once again have refused to rise up in anger against Congress. His endless campaign swings seem to be of diminishing value.