Fearmongering and loathing on the sequester

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It would, according to the president on Tuesday, “jeopardize military readiness ... eviscerate job creating investments in education and energy and research ... emergency responders ... border agents ... FBI agents...federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go ... air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks ... more delays at airports across the country ... thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off ... tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care ... hundreds of thousands will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings,” and the list went on.

All of this will happen a week from Friday.

Put simply, on March 1 a calamity of historic proportion will occur if the dreaded sequester goes into effect.

How is this possible?

First, a history lesson is in order.

As has been widely reported in recent weeks, Obama White House aides conceived of the sequester almost two years ago. Author Bob Woodward, in his book The Price of Politics, reported that on July 27, 2011, senior Obama aides Jack Lew and Rob Nabors “went to the Senate to meet with (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid and his chief of staff” to propose the (sequester) trigger. Both Houses ultimately passed a debt ceiling bill that included the sequester and the president signed it into law.

Inconvenient Fact #1: We would have no sequester had the Obama White House not originally proposed it.

Last Congress the GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed two bills averting the across-the-board cuts from the sequester, instead using targeted cuts.  The Senate did nothing. There was no way for the two Houses to negotiate because the Senate did nothing.

Inconvenient Fact #2: On November 21, 2011, Obama issued a pertinent veto threat: “Already, some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts. My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off ramps on this one. We need to keep the pressure up to compromise — not turn off the pressure.”

Why would Obama issue a veto threat if he believed the sequester would be so bad for America? The White House, asked this very question Tuesday, said he issued the veto threat to drive toward a “balanced” compromise.

Inconvenient Fact #3: If Obama believed the sequester was truly this damaging to the country, why did he wait until 10 days before it was set to take effect to pressure Republicans to compromise to avert it? In a presidential debate last fall with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, Obama famously promised that the sequester “would not happen.” In the three months that have passed, he has done virtually nothing to follow through. Now, 18 months after the sequester passed and almost two months after it was first set to take effect (before a short extension was agreed to by all the parties as part of the fiscal-cliff deal), the president plans to fight on this issue. Look for him to hold campaign-style events next week as the deadline nears.

Inconvenient Fact #4: The Senate has done virtually nothing to avert to sequester. Only last week did Senate Democrats release their own plan, which has not been considered and likely cannot pass the Senate. When the weeklong recess ends Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should immediately bring their plan to the floor, allow amendments in an open process and see what the Senate can pass, if anything.

But we should return to the original question of the fearmongering. Is it warranted? In a word, no. Surely they could be targeted, rather than across the board, but the size of the cuts is about 2.5 percent.

In real dollars, what is the cost of the domestic cuts from the sequester? Over one year, they total $85 billion. For some perspective, the emergency supplemental bill for Hurricane Sandy relief was $50 billion. This year’s budget deficit is expected to be over $800 billion, so the domestic side of the sequester will cut our deficit by 10 percent for fiscal 2013.

Two things are now clear:

1) Obama does not seriously wish to avert the sequester, or he would never have proposed it, never have issued a veto threat to any bill to avert it and worked behind the scenes, in bipartisan fashion over the past 18 months to arrive at a solution.

2) Obama has only one goal for the next two years: put an end to divided government by winning back control of the House of Representatives in 2014. Everything he does aims to increase the chances of doing so.

With the sequester, the White House is learning one more inconvenient fact: You reap what you sow.

Matt Mackowiak is an Austin, Texas, and Washington-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC and co-founder of Must Read Texas. He has been an adviser to two U.S. senators and a governor, and has advised federal and state political campaigns across the country.