Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Blame Game

So as the sequestration fight comes down to the wire a lot of folks in Washington are casting about for someone to blame. The Republican Party and John Boehner, in a move that surprises no one, is blaming President Obama because President Obama apparently came up with the idea of sequestration in the first place.


Are the cuts in the Sequestration Package big, ugly, terrible, horrible cuts that no one wants to see come to pass? Of course they are, that's the entire point of sequestration. There's a much ballyhooed article on the Washington Post blog which blasts the White House for trying to claim that Congressional Republicans come up with the concept in the first place -- and we'll get to that in a minute -- but the article contains some quoted dialog from Bob Woodward's "The Price of Politics" which really drives home the point and purpose behind the entire sordid mess.

From page 215 of "The Price of Politics" (July 12, 2011)
They turned to [White House national economic council director Gene] Sperling for details about a compulsory trigger if they didn't cut spending or raise taxes in an amount at least equivalent to the debt ceiling increase. 
“A trigger would lock in our commitment,” Sperling explained. “Even though we disagree on the composition of how to get to the cuts, it would lock us in. The form of the automatic sequester would punish both sides. We’d have to September to avert any sequester” — a legal obligation to make spending cuts. 
“Then we could use a medium or big deal to force tax reform,” Obama said optimistically. 
“If this is a trigger for tax reform,” [House speaker John] Boehner said, “this could be worth discussing. But as a budget tool, it’s too complicated. I’m very nervous about this.” 
“This would be an enforcement mechanism,” Obama said
And indeed it was as a trigger that the compromise proposal of Sequestration went forward.  It was as a trigger that it passed the House, as a trigger that it passed the Senate and as a trigger that it won the votes of, as White House Spokeswoman Amy Bundage said "2 out of 3 Republicans in Congress -- including Congressman Ryan."

So yes, the cuts contained in the Sequestration package are brutal and nasty cuts.  If the package was full of kittens and rainbows its doubtful it would have spurred much action on Capitol Hill which was largely the point of the measure in the first place.  

But does that make the cuts themselves President Obama's "fault?"  As written into the sequestration bill the cuts were never intended to take effect; they were an "or else" to follow the sentence "Congress needs to solve this whole debt limit issue so it stops being a manufactured political crisis every six months."  The expectation of everyone at the White House and the Congress and indeed of Speaker Boehner himself was that Congress would get its act together and arrive at a compromise to prevent the sequestration cuts from going into effect. 

That hasn't happened and both President Obama and the House Republicans have tried to shirk responsibility for the cuts themselves by pinning the inception of the legislation upon the other.  Obama seems to be in the wrong on that point but who authored the sequestration measure seems beside the point at this stage.

Who's fault are these cuts, really?  Well, until Congress puts a bill on President Obama's desk there is nothing he can do to prevent them from going into force.  

Congress, on the other hand...

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