The clock has already struck midnight. The sequester has gone into effect. The foretold doom that the sequester posed has supposedly arrived. And yet the world has not ended. Indeed, everything seems to be going along much like before. Yes, similar to the Mayan apocalypse that came before it, the fateful rhetoric of the sequester was little more than bluster.
Nevertheless, Republicans did all they could to help President Obama out of the political pickle he put himself in. Last week Congressional Republicans offered Obama a plan to give him more flexibility in instituting the $85 billion in cuts called for by the sequester. Rather than follow through on the White House’s histrionic list of cuts the proposal would let agencies and departments find cuts within their programs that have proven to be ineffective.
The White House immediately dismissed the Republican plan because…, well, because it would have exposed their carefully crafted scare campaign. “No amount of flexibility” would mitigate the damage of these cuts, said White House spokesman Jay Carney. And yet, as if to seemingly contradict himself, he then argued that “the best way to go about this is to postpone the sequester or agree to a bigger deal that eliminates it entirely in a balanced way.”
In other words, we absolutely cut can’t $85 billion in the sequester, because it’ll be a disaster, but we’ll totally agree to a bigger package of cuts if it includes revenues, because then everything will be totally fine?
Huh? None of this should make any sense to a rational mind. And yet because the last four years have provided an insight into the partisan animal that is the Obama White House it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on.
First, Obama, as he always does, wants to avoid any immediate cuts, and instead wants to substitute them for cuts in the “out years.” That’s Washington-speak for cuts that ain’t never gonna happen. Why? Because this Congress can’t bind future Congresses to follow through on its priorities. Of course, given the current makeup of Congress, President Obama also knows that they would never reach an agreement on a package of cuts. Instead, much like the Deficit Supercommittee, Congress would flail about, fingers would be pointed, and the White House could exist above the fray, shrug its shoulders, and say “we tried.”
Second, Obama understands that if he accepts the flexibility, begins making the cuts, and then the economy doesn’t tank, people may finally begin to understand how painless reducing the deficit could be. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board explains:
“The President wants to deny himself and his executive branch the authority to do less harm. Don’t stop me before I kill again.
The White House political calculus seems to be that if Americans see that cutting 2.3% of federal spending is possible without catastrophe, they might learn something from that experience. They might even conclude that government doesn’t need to be as large as it is, or that government should do some things well but not many other poorly. They might even learn that government is about choosing, as opposed to merely allowing the government to grow willy-nilly year after year to gather more clients who depend on government.”
Fortunately, we may get to learn those lessons anyway. Because even though there is no doubt that the sequester’s cuts could have been more carefully targeted, even though it would have been much more preferable to cut waste rather than the military, the economic apocalypse Obama predicted simply seems silly. To explain why, we’ll leave you with a chart, courtesy of the Heritage Foundation: