Obama’s revenge

So many of the unattractive parts of the personality and presidency of Barack Obama are evident in how he has handled the sequestration issue —and it’s worth looking at for what it tells us about our president and his administrative style.

Let’s start with his detachment from the business of government and administration. Confronted with a congressional mandate to cut about $40 billion in spending this year from a total non-defense discretionary budget of about $600 billion, he just ordered across-the-board reductions in proportion to the legislative totals.

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When former President Truman faced a need to trim spending, he set up a commission headed by former President Hoover to scour the government and make specific recommendations, most of which he implemented. When former President Clinton felt the weight of congressional pressure to cut spending, he empowered then-Vice President Gore to set up a vast effort to evaluate the procedures of every federal agency as part of his program to “re-invent government.” Gore produced hundreds of suggestions, most of which were implemented by a willing chief executive. The result was that Clinton and Gore cut the size of the federal workforce to lower levels than existed during the Eisenhower years.

But when Obama faced the same task, he took the easy way out and just required proportional cutting. Rather than use the cuts as an opportunity for prioritization and streamlining, he lopped off the appropriate sum and called it a day.

The bald fact is that the president either could not or did not want to be bothered to spend the time to identify $40 billion of waste, fraud and duplication in a $600 billion budget. It was too much effort for him.

But then, one wonders why he didn’t just tell his Cabinet secretaries to make the cuts and delegate them to do the research and scouring? Why go with the furlough system for cutting spending? Why not lay off the people we don’t need? If we could get by with 7 percent less work by federal employees, why not just fire 7 percent of them?

The answer is that Obama wanted to prune federal spending in such a way that it could easily grow back again. Rather than close programs or shutter agencies, he elected to ask everyone to take off one day in 10. Once the sequester ends, they could go back to getting paid for all 10 days.

He never envisioned a cut in the size of government — just a temporary, short-term need to reduce spending for a few months before it resumes its upward trajectory.

And, by refusing to prioritize, he ensured that the sequestration cuts would affect everything, not just the optional areas of federal activity. Instead of closing unnecessary jobs or eliminating some of the duplicative agencies and functions the Government Accounting Office has identified, he just furloughs everyone. 

But most distressing is his insistence that furloughs operate to cripple the most vital federal program: control of the skies through the Federal Aviation Administration. With its thumb on the pulse of commerce in America, the FAA’s air traffic control function is probably the single most important federal regulatory task. But the 13,000 air traffic controllers have to take the same furloughs as the lowest inspector or bureaucrat because of Obama’s across-the-board cuts.

The resulting air delays will impede commerce and inconvenience millions of people.

Is this happenstance? Or is the president deliberately targeting the movers and shakers of our economy for delays and hardship? Is this his revenge against the 1 percent that denied him their votes and support in 2012? Is he inwardly relishing their torment as the just reward for insisting on cuts in federal spending in the first place?

Is this Obama’s revenge?


Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.