The Democratic message on the coming sequester is simple and coherent: It is yet another conservative attack on the middle class and those struggling to make it into the middle class. It will have a devastating effect on children, the elderly, veterans, on pretty much everyone who relies on law enforcement, food safety, air traffic safety. The defense of our country is likely to suffer. You will be affected if you drive on interstate highways, if you have kids, if you care for aging parents, if you go to college, if you eat, or if you breathe. It will send us into another recession.
The Republican message is somewhat more diffuse. The sequester wasn't our idea. Democrats, for mysterious reasons, wanted to attack the poor and middle class while protecting the rich. We had nothing to do with it, except to vote for it reluctantly at the insistence of President Obama. It will be horrible for the economy, but it won't be all that bad, and it will be horrible for the economy. We should change it. We won't change it. And we are already taxing the extremely wealthy more than we ever should.
One variation has already been at play. Sequestration has, goes the story, been the President's idea all along. This story line got a bit of a boost via the legendary Bob Woodward. In an op ed piece he declared that the current sequester was the President's idea.
It is a claim that can be made very narrowly, but only with no context at all.
In fact, other carefully researched accounts by Woodward himself show a sequester, by another name, had already been demanded by Republicans. In fact, it has been a continuous demand with a narrow target: no defense cuts, no tax increases for anyone but the middle class and the very poor. All that would be cut would be programs such as law enforcement, teachers, food for little kids, meals-on-wheels, veteran's programs, and enforcement of bothersome regulations on food safety. Things that those very wealthy folks who happen to be entirely self-absorbed don't care much about, but which the rest of us either pretty much depend on for daily living, or which support people whose survival concerns us because we are ... you know ... human.
Republicans held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage. American jobs, a lot of American jobs, were threatened by Republicans for the purpose of attacking programs they had grown to hate, but which Americans had ratified with their votes. Woodward carefully documents the Obama counter-proposal: provide a workable deadline before we slash pretty much everything in a way that will be distasteful to Republicans lobbying for the wealthy, as well as Democrats working on behalf of the middle class. A compromise could be reached if there was motivation all around.
A number of observers have made a useful analogy. President Obama can be said to have proposed Sequester II only in the sense of a mugging victim explaining to the mugger that he left his wallet at home and offering his watch instead. If you have the ability to insist convincingly that making a present of the watch was the victim's idea, a number of criminals will want to hire you as defense council. Republicans cannot reasonably avoid responsibility for all versions of the sequester, including the current incarnation.
I made a similar, but far more entertaining, case just last week. Did I mention that it was entertaining? My presentation is a rebuke of sorts to those who sometimes forget that I am hilarious.
It does seem clear to some of us that the sequester carries Republican desires that go beyond a craving to reduce deficits. That craving was not expressed during the Bush administration. Evidence that health care expenses are decreasing with health industry anticipation of cost reduction incentives means little to conservatives. Those incentives that are reducing costs happen to be part of Obamacare. Republicans want to dismantle those incentives. There is strong evidence that the part of the deficit associated with the recession is fading with recovery. Means nothing.
The economic harm that will be caused by massive cuts is, to Republicans, a myth. Evidence that slashed spending during a recovery will kill that recovery, as is now happening in Europe, does not matter. My mind's made up. Don't bother me with economics.
Everything from meals-on-wheels for the disabled and the elderly to lunch programs for little kids will be affected. Public statements by a growing number of Republicans makes the conservative position increasingly transparent. Hurting those whom Republicans see as "takers" is not a bug, it's a feature.
However, there is a recognition among Republicans that some cuts will be profoundly unpopular. We have the public fury at Republicans during the GOP shutdown of government in 1995 to teach that lesson. All would work to the benefit of conservative principles if only there was some way to attack the poor and middle class, to attack national security, to attack jobs, to attack food supplies, to attack law enforcement, to attack the vulnerable, all without taking any responsibility. If Republicans could slash and burn essential services and find a way to blame Democrats, it would be a dream come true.
The dream team is hard at work.
There is a Republican move to accomplish just that.
House members are calling for a change to the coming sequester. No, they won't call it off. They won't raise revenues, either by raising taxes or by closing loopholes. Business executives will still be able to fly corporate jets tax free. What Republicans plan to change is the discretion the President can have in choosing which cuts to make.
If they simply offer a Sophie's Choice to the President, forcing him to decide which of the nation's vulnerable to hurt, which essential services to eliminate, which jobs to cut, they can have it all. They can have their cuts while blaming Democrats for the choices they force President Obama to make.
They demand that the President stand, front and center, before the blood soaked cutting board so, when voters begin to glare, fearless Republicans can hide, peeping from behind the tall, strong presence of their Commander-in-Chief.
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Suffice it to say that all of the fear-mongering and demagoguery that President Obama has stated regarding these “cuts”, and which you have dutifully repeated here, are complete and utter nonsense.
Not a single solitary penny is slated to be cut in current existing spending whatsoever. These mythical sequestration cuts that our leaders of both parties are decrying are ONLY cuts in the base-line budgeted INCREASE IN THE GROWTH OF SPENDING. Surely by reducing the increase in the rate of growth of our national spending by 2.5% will not cause meat inspectors, head start, teachers, firefighters, and the U.S. military to have to make draconian cuts. Are we really going to hurt Americans and cause economic collapse by not allowing an additional 2.5% of spending to occur in our national budget?
Perhaps this kind of rhetoric and fear-mongering served a useful point as a community organizer, but it does damned little good when it comes to governing a nation. Perhaps if President Obama had actually run a community center and had to meet a payroll instead of being a community agitator, he would better understand how to govern. He could have hired Boehner to learn beside him as his assistant.
In the meantime, why don’t we actually set the facts straight about the issues at hand. That is the first step to being able to come up with some real solutions.
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