After President Obama spent weeks campaigning against the sequester and demanding that Republicans agree to tax hikes to prevent it, the sequester has gone ahead and many observers are declaring it a setback for the White House spin machine.
Roll Call writes today, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this for the White House and a re-elected president with political capital to spend. But President Barack Obama is in a position of supplication to Hill Republicans, talking loudly and often about the harm of automatic budget cuts but lacking the leverage to get the GOP to buckle. Senior administration officials had for months predicted that Republicans would cave on the sequester and agree to more taxes, even after agreeing to $600 billion in tax increases in the New Year’s Eve fiscal-cliff deal. . . . But so far it’s not working out as the West Wing planned.”
“[A]fter the fiscal-cliff deal,” Roll Call notes, “Republican leaders regrouped. Boehner repeatedly told his restive conference they would stand firm on the sequester. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky stuck to a mantra that worked to unify their fractious party — the president had already gotten his tax hikes and now it was time for spending cuts. . . . Republican aides said the GOP has maneuvered the president into a corner. Aides believe the sequester will affect Democratic constituencies more deeply than Republicans’, and by adding defense-related bills into the continuing resolution, they feel they can pacify their own hawks longer than Congressional Democrats can keep in line their members who cherish social programs.”
Politico adds, “With about $85 billion in spending cuts — and no new revenue — kicking into gear on Friday, it appears that the exuberance expressed by many Democrats at the beginning of the year was misplaced. Efforts to avert the sequester never achieved liftoff, and Democrats are realizing that new tax revenues are off the table for the immediate future.”
“Republicans now scoff at the idea that the fiscal cliff established any type of precedent when it comes to tapping revenue to cut the deficit,” Politico reports. “Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, dismissed the idea of a precedent as ‘bull.’ ‘They haven’t established anything,’ he said. ‘All they’ve established is they want to spend at all costs, and they keep themselves in power by spending it and saying how compassionate they are with everybody else’s money.’ ‘There will be no last-minute, backroom deal and absolutely no agreement to increase taxes,’ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Friday as he prepared to meet with congressional leaders and Obama at the White House.”
As Roll Call writes, “The president seems to be at a loss as to how to get Congress to bend to his wishes.”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration clearly embarrassed itself with its wild exaggerations about the potential effects of sequestration. BuzzFeed rounded up three prominent instances in a Saturday post: “The president incorrectly said Capitol janitors would get a pay cut. . . . Education Secretary Arne Duncan falsely claimed teachers were getting pink slips. . . . [and] Cuts to a department that doesn’t exist.”
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union yesterday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell explained the bottom line for Republicans: “The question is are we going to keep the commitment we made to the American people a year and a half ago, a bipartisan agreement signed by the President, that we would reduce spending without raising taxes by this amount of money in this fiscal year? Here we are a year and a half later with the President trying to walk away from the commitment we made to the American people. Let’s talk about the larger issue just for a moment. We now have a $16 trillion national debt. Our debt is as big as our economy. . . . . We’ve had four straight years of a trillion dollar annual deficit. This modest reduction of 2.4 percent in spending over the next six months is a little more than the average American experienced just two months ago when their own pay went down when the payroll tax holiday expired. . . . We think it’s important to the American people to keep this commitment. We’re willing to do it.”