By Emily Theroux
The Wall Street Journal called him “President Armageddon.”
Early in the final fortnight of the Great Sequestration Debate, President Obama compared a frightening cascade of looming federal spending cuts to taking a “meat cleaver approach” to our fragile economic recovery.
Unless an unlikely compromise between Democrats and Republicans can be reached, the first round of a decade’s worth of automatic, across-the-board reductions will kick in on March 1, whacking an immediate $85 billion from military and domestic budgets alike. Countless jobs will be lost, Obama warned, and many more public-sector employees can expect reduced hours or extended furloughs (including teachers, first responders, air traffic controllers, and FBI agents).
But unlike the sojourns of their elected representatives, who just embarked on yet another paid leave, these government “vacations” won’t be taxpayer-funded.
“Brutal,” as the president described it, doesn’t fully capture the coming desperation, once funding has been curtailed for everything from submarine deployments to military health care coverage; from nuclear weapons security and foreign aid to FDA meat, poultry, and dairy inspections; from the Head Start program and immunization programs to food assistance for impoverished children.
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For weeks now, House Speaker John Boehner has blithely called the cruel, indiscriminate cutback plan “the Obamaquester.” The Republican talking point has become a Twitter hashtag wildly popular on the right. Liberals have their own terms for it, many of them unprintable. Some call it “the axe”; I call it “the guillotine.” A particularly creative response to Boehner’s taunt — Sequestageddon™ — was posted last night on Twitter by a freelance writer and self-avowed “political junkie” who tweets as @DAbitty.
Like the Debt Ceiling Debacle and the Fiscal Cliff Fiasco before it, the Sequester Stalemate is abstract and unfathomable to many Americans who don’t pay much attention to the “meat-grinding” of the legislative process. What makes these partisan showdowns all the more toxic is the way Boehner, McConnell, and other GOP leaders evade liability — for both plutocratic policy goals and relentless obstruction — by using convoluted language, trafficking in logical fallacies, and fomenting deliberate lies about their opponents.
Ironically, the sequester was intended to be so dire a threat that neither side would consider actually letting it happen. Yet here we stand on the brink of economic disaster with no hint of a compromise in sight, and all the obdurate Republicans will do is try their damnedest to make sure the blame falls squarely on President Obama’s shoulders.
While reporters from The New York Times, The Hill, and other mainstream publications reproach both political parties for the impasse, the GOP has staunchly refused to counterbalance the sequester’s spending cuts with revenue increases. Emboldened by Bob Woodward’s book The Price of Politics, Republicans almost universally ascribe the resulting gridlock to Obama. (Woodward credited then-Chief-of-Staff Jack Lew with initially proposing the sheer lunacy of including mandatory sequestration in the 2011 debt deal.)
Slate.com’s Dave Weigel, who called the question of which side really dreamed up the sequester “the dumbest debate in Washington,” slyly noted Woodward’s version as the one Republicans “prefer to cite” (while they omit another Woodward observation: the sequester’s package of spending cuts with no tax hikes was what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “demanded”).
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Boehner’s malevolently quixotic “Obamaquest” (to pin the tail on the Dems’ donkey for any fallout from another GOP stab at tanking the economy) may yet crash and burn. Yesterday, a 2011 email surfaced that included a PowerPoint presentation developed by the House speaker’s office and the Republican Policy Committee. Created to persuade Tea Party House members to support a debt-ceiling deal, the presentation clearly shows that Boehner viewed “automatic across-the-board cuts” (sequestration) as “a ‘cudgel’ to guarantee a reduction in federal spending — the conservatives’ necessary condition for not having America default on its obligations,” in the words of John Avlon, whose reporting for The Daily Beast turned up the smoking (digital) gun.
The GOP’s goal was to neutralize the $1.2 trillion debt ceiling increase, by “(ensuring) that any debt limit increase is met with greater spending cuts – IF Joint Committee fails to achieve at least $1.2T in deficit reduction,” the slide pictured above clearly reads.
But Avlon copped out at the last minute and, like his mainstream media colleagues, fell back on the false equivalency of blaming both parties equally for failing to “work together” on what he assumed to be a shared goal. “And now, faced with the pain that both parties voted for but nobody wants, they’re busy pointing fingers and trying to assign political blame,” he concluded.
The only reason we’re stalled in the current blind alley is the GOP’s obstinacy over approving any revenue increase that involves raising taxes or eliminating corporate loopholes – without a binding agreement with Democrats that the resulting revenues will be used to pay down the debt.
The Party of No (no taxes, no regulations, no cuts to corporate welfare, no compromise, no veracity, no accountability) has morphed into the Party of Nobody Here But Us Chickenhawks — willing, as they’ve always been over risking the lives of young Americans in opportunistic wars, to play chicken with the national economy. In their quest to impede Obama at every turn, they’re not above gambling with hundreds of thousands of jobs, hamstringing current military operations, and taking food from the mouths of hungry children if doing so will prevent a single gazillionaire from paying a dime more in federal income tax.
The Republican Party has turned even the most routine votes on fiscal policy into pitched battles that neither party wins in the end. As a result of this calculated political grandstanding, the American people come in dead last virtually every time the GOP stands in unison to block Barack Obama.