The world kept on turning, and now Democrats are starting to worry about dealing with the debacle of botched expectation management. After a series of media reports demolished the claims of Barack Obama and his Cabinet of disaster from a 2.3% reduction in the rate of increase in federal spending and the impact of the sequester all but undetectable to most Americans outside the Beltway, Politico reports that the White House has begun a “recalibration” effort:
President Barack Obama hopes to spark a pitchfork revolt against Republicans over sequester-induced budget cuts — but many Democrats fret that he’s undermined that effort with an early strategy marred by hype, poor planning and muddled messaging.
The stakes in the sequester debate aren’t quite as high as they were during the debt ceiling battle of 2011, but Democratic veterans of the Obama-Republican wars of 2009 and 2010 are getting a creepy sense of déjà vu from a White House messaging shop they believe fumbled the rollouts of the stimulus and health care initiatives.
Over the past few days, Obama and his team have pulled back from a kick-off strategy that portrayed the $84 billion in automatic cuts this year as a parade of instant horrors — hellish waits at airports, a quick cascade of private job losses resulting from voided federal contracts, teachers immediately sacked.
That’s part of a “recalibration,” according to one Obama insider, intended to take the focus off the veracity of the administration’s claims — and back on congressional Republicans who have refused to give ground on new tax revenue demanded by Obama as a condition of any long-term budget deal.
The creepy sense of deja vu comes from yet another wolf-crying episode where Obama overpromised and underdelivered. The problem, according to one House Democrat staffer who remains unnamed, is that the White House never quite realized that they had lost their leverage after the tax deal, and now they have to deal with the consequences:
One top Democratic Congressional aide offered this bit of advice to Obama: “Don’t accentuate a fight you don’t intend to wage [and] can’t win. … They spent two weeks building up sequester as a horror show and then got fact-checked a dozen times and were forced to back off their own claims of it being a disaster once they were forced to acquiesce to the cuts happening.”
If they really thought that the hysterics would force House Republicans to cave, then they’re reading far too much of their own press. The shift in leverage was obvious from the moment that the tax-rate issues were settled without any further sunset-clause extensions. Republicans might not like the nature of the cuts, but they weren’t about to offer more revenue for spending reductions — and they didn’t have to do so, thanks to the automatic application of the sequester, which Obama and his team authored.
Besides, the sequester isn’t really stopping government from doing anything that the White House really wants. Case in point — ObamaCare taxes, which the government will collect despite threats of reduced services at the IRS and Treasury due to the sequester:
Implementation of the taxes and fees from President Obama’s healthcare law is on track despite the cutbacks at the IRS from sequestration.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), enacted in 2010 and derided by Republicans as “ObamaCare,” contains the broadest set of tax changes enacted in some two decades — more than 40 alterations in all, including penalties on people who choose not to purchase insurance.
But while IRS and Treasury officials have warned of reduced services as employees are furloughed under the sequester, neither agency has expressed any concern that the automatic spending cuts would delay the rollout of the healthcare overhaul.
A spokesman for the IRS declined to comment any further on the agency’s concerns about sequestration.
Budgeting is all about prioritizing limited resources. We can certainly see where the Obama administration’s priorities lie.