Check the window. Did the sun rise in the east this morning? The big blue marble still spinning on its axis? Via The Corner, Charles Krauthammer explains how Republicans now have the upper hand in the Nightmare on Sequester Street hysteria, thanks to Barack Obama’s wildly overshoot on doomsaying. That doesn’t mean they can hang onto that edge, however, and Krauthammer advises Republicans to make sure that Obama has to reject the authority to adjust spending to cover priorities to show just what kind of game Obama has played:
In his column today, Krauthammer spells out Obama’s strategy in greater detail:
Hence the president’s message. If the “sequestration” — automatic spending cuts— goes into effect, the skies will fall. Plane travel jeopardized, carrier groups beached, teachers furloughed. And a shortage of junk-touching TSA agents.
The Obama administration has every incentive to make the sky fall, lest we suffer that terrible calamity — cuts the nation survives. Are they threatening to pare back consultants, conferences, travel and other nonessential fluff? Hardly. It shall be air-traffic control. Meat inspection. Weather forecasting.
A 2011 Government Accountability Officereport gave a sampling of the vastness of what could be cut, consolidated and rationalized in Washington: 44 overlapping job training programs, 18 for nutrition assistance, 82 (!) on teacher quality, 56 dealing with financial literacy, more than 20 for homelessness, etc. Total annual cost: $100 billion-$200 billion, about two to five times the entire domestic sequester.
Are these on the chopping block? No sir. It’s firemen first. That’s the phrase coined in 1976 by legendary Washington Monthly editor Charlie Peters to describe the way government functionaries beat back budget cuts. Dare suggest a nick in the city budget, and the mayor immediately shuts down the firehouse. The DMV back office, stacked with nepotistic incompetents, remains intact. Shrink it and no one would notice. Sell the firetruck — the people scream and the city council falls silent about any future cuts.
Krauthammer’s not the only one noticing that the lack of Armageddon has made the hysteria strategy a problem now for Obama. National Journal’s Michael Catalini says Obama’s political gamble on sequestration is backfiring big time:
But even as Obama proclaims dire consequences from the cuts, he is already hedging his bets.
“The impact of this policy won’t be felt overnight, but it will be real,” the president said.
This was a key concession. With further skirmishes over the debt ceiling and government funding not far off, the White House finds itself in choppy political waters for the first time since Obama won reelection. Its best-case political course hinges on the economy screeching to a halt, assumes that Republicans will again cave on revenues, and relies on the public being on his side. It’s a political gamble that could go bust. …
“There’s real risk in saying that the sky is falling … especially if you consider that sequestration is structured to come in slowly,” said William Galston, a former adviser to President Clinton who is now with the Brookings Institution. “If after three weeks people look around and the sky is where it traditionally has been. … he has to be careful he doesn’t get too far out on that limb.”
It’s already too late for that. Arne Duncan’s face plant this week gave up the demagogic nature of this strategy, and the press finally noticed it. With the “fireman first” approach wobbling, a bill granting Obama authority to adjust allocated funding within departments to cover higher priorities will drive a stake through its heart. If Obama vetoes it or the Senate refuses to pass it, House Republicans can rightly say that Democrats want to damage those efforts for cheap political gain. If Obama signs it, then he owns the pain that results from a “fireman first” strategy.