Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Whose Sequester Is It Really?


With the sequester now just over a week away, it's beginning to look like the powers that be in Washington are prepared to jump off this man-made cliff and suffer the consequences that will inevitably ensue. And naturally, Republicans are all lining up to make sure the public knows full well that, this time, they're not responsible. This one's on the President. It was Obama, they maintain, who first floated the idea and then forced them to accept back in August of 2011*. John Boehner has his tears all cued up for the cameras.

Two pieces - both in The Daily Beast - by Michael Tomasky and John Avlon basically blow this myth right out of the water. First Tomasky:

It was ... the White House’s notion that if the “trigger” was hit, what would kick in would be not only automatic budget cuts but also automatic revenue increases (an idea Republicans refused to go along with).

So fine, the White House proposed it (sequestration). It did so only after months of Republicans publicly demanding huge spending cuts and refusing to consider any revenues and acting as if they were prepared to send the nation into default over spending. In other words, this was the administration’s idea in much the way that it’s a parent’s “idea” to pay ransom to a person who has taken his child hostage. There was a gun to the White House’s head, which was the possibility of the country going into default.

And then, when it was all put into legislation, it was the Republicans who passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in the House, with 218 of them voting yes. So even if administration officials proposed it, it would have remained just a proposal if those 218 Republicans hadn’t supported it (no House Democrats backed it). Most Republicans agreed at the time that the sequestration trigger was a good thing—that it would force everyone to get together and agree to a path forward and a long-term budget deal.

And secondly Avlon:

I happened to come across an old email that throws cold water on House Republicans’ attempts to call this “Obama’s Sequester.” It’s a PowerPoint presentation that Boehner’s office developed with the Republican Policy Committee and sent out to the Capitol Hill GOP on July 31, 2011. Intended to explain the outline of the proposed debt deal, the presentation is titled: “Two Step Approach to Hold President Obama Accountable.”

It's essentially an internal sales document from the old dealmaker Boehner to his unruly and often unreasonable Tea Party cohort. But it’s clear as day in the presentation that “sequestration” was considered a cudgel to guarantee a reduction in federal spending—the conservatives’ necessary condition for not having America default on its obligations.

The Obama-Boehner grand bargain that was negotiated in the summer of 2011 and came so close to being agreed upon increasingly looks like the best bet conservatives could get. But they pressured Boehner to walk away without so much as a returned phone call.

So we have a sequester that Republicans demanded as a condition of raising the debt ceiling that is about to kick in. John Boehner can write all the op-ed pieces he wants, his fingerprints are all over this monstrosity, as are those of every Republican who voted for it.

Yes, Obama is now stuck with it and, like it or not, he once more has to play the adult in a classroom full of misfits. That's the price you have to pay when you're sane. That's why it's incumbent upon him to scream as loud as he can just what the consequences would be should the sequester kick in.

As I said in an earlier piece, the master plan here for the GOP is force these draconian cuts on a still fragile recovery and then blame the President when the economy tanks. It's diabolical and cowardly, but when you've got nothing substantive to bring to the dinner table your only option is to burn the whole damn dining room to the ground.

* Though the Act was signed into law August of 2011, the actual bill passed the House in July.

Links: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/19/who-s-to-blame-for-the-sequester.html
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/20/the-powerpoint-that-proves-it-s-not-obama-s-sequester-after-all.html

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