Failure of leadership

For President Obama, it no longer matters whether weeks from now sequestration has caused the sky to fall or just the pollen level — he stands to be blamed either way. Sure, the GOP strategy so far — using several conflicting messages simultaneously — is failing miserably. But while Obama’s latest campaign might further damage Republicans, it isn’t likely to end in victory for him.

As anxious Americans tune in Friday, Obama will hold a “meeting” with the top four congressional leaders at the White House after the sequester deadline has passed. It is the photograph that says “I tried,” but it should be ignored. One needed only to catch a few of the 21 minutes Obama spent trying to govern-by-rally in Newport News, Va., on Tuesday to know he was happy to blow the deadline. “I’m not interested in spin. I’m not interested in playing a blame game. At this point, all I’m interested in is just solving problems,” Obama said to the crowd of workers threatened by furloughs and potential job losses under sequester, though he hasn’t met once with Republicans to try and replace the cuts. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Either Obama will watch the economy suffer the blow he warned of, or he will watch Americans conclude sequester was nothing and wonder just what he was so upset about. Reaching a deal is the only way of avoiding recession or embarrassment, and to build a legacy. 

Strangely, the president and his team think Republicans will cave and back a tax increase that will spare many of the cuts of the $85 billion in 2013’s sequester cuts, or even in the 10-year total of $1.2 trillion. Their thinking is based on the New Year’s Eve deal when the GOP helped pass an extension of the Bush tax cuts to all but the wealthiest top earners. But clearly Republicans had no choice: by approving $600 billion in new taxes on the rich, they stopped the biggest tax increase in history. 

Republicans won’t give on taxes without entitlement savings, and this time they are happy to dig in. The approval rating of congressional Republicans is so low it’s not likely to budge. Obama’s approval, however — up to 53 percent following his reelection — is slipping, and new polls show the GOP’s loss is not necessarily his gain. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll showed while the president beats out the GOP on the question of handling federal spending, 52 percent of respondents disapprove of Obama. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows the percentage of Americans who approve of Obama’s handling the economy has dropped 5 points in the last month alone. Only 32 percent of respondents believe the country is headed in the right direction. 

Ultimately, Obama will own the end result. While the administration has gone over the top in its alarmist warnings, and the release of immigration detainees, Republicans know the sequester is more than just a few days of staying away from eating uninspected meat or visiting national parks — that the potential consequences to our national security and our economy are frightening. It matters not that Obama was responsible for first coming up with the idea of the sequester in 2011; Republicans agreed and voted for it. No matter the outcome, Obama and Republicans are equally as guilty for sitting on their hands.

Sequestration is an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of the taxpayer — the likes of which most of us have never witnessed in our lifetimes. The sequester tells the world that in America, division and disagreement triumph over reason and consensus. Accepting the sequester means “stupid,” “reckless” and “indiscriminate” is an acceptable outcome. And that will have the president’s name written all over it.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.


More in A.B. Stoddard

A.B. Stoddard: Jeb stalling in neutral

Read more »