A not entirely new development in the sequester blame game reemerged this weekend in the form of Bob Woodward putting a damper on the Democrats’ Speaker Boehner sequestration powerpoint, trump card. This not wholly unexpected wrinkle shifts the sequester’s inception back on the White House.
Woodward, his book The Price of Politics in hand and armed with his extensive access to the administration’s inner workings, trounced the President’s assertions that it was Congress, not the White House, who initiated the sequester. According to the award winning journalist, during the debt ceiling battle of 2011 it was Jack Lew,White House Budget Director, and White House national economic council director Gene Sperling, who first broached the idea for an automatic trigger or sequester. The idea was meant as a countermeasure to the unyielding, no tax, Tea Party freshmen who were blocking the rise of the debt ceiling if their demands for cuts were not met. The strategy basis was set upon a anticipated premise that huge cuts in defense spending would never see the light of day. White House negotiators predicted the threat of such significant cuts alone would prove too much for Republicans to bear and force them to negotiate for a balanced solution. Obama signed off on this tactic.
There. Cut and dry. John Boehner and congressional Republicans were right after all, Obama owns the sequestration. If that was the full scope of the events then, yes, that would be that. But as with many things in government nothing is as simple as all that and when the breadth of entire situation enters into the assessment responsibility begins to shift back again.
After the 2010 midterm “shellacking”, which left a host of new Tea Party freshmen chomping at the bit for a fiscal battle with Democrats, raising the debt ceiling built into a massive political battle, the first of numerous manufactured crises. It came to a head the summer of 2011. House Republicans drew a line in the sand. There would be no increase in the debt ceiling unless huge spending cuts were made, even if that left the nation in default. For months negotiators met. They even reached a grand bargain which eventually failed in the House due to tax increases.
Amidst the frustrations a need for something to compel Congress to act upon some manner of viable budget plan. A deal so unpalatable to both sides was then created. It was based on the belief neither side would allow this trigger pulled due to the catastrophic nature of the consequences. In order to garner approval to raise the debt ceiling, normally a routine act, and keep the country out of default, the sequester was presented and passed both houses but was never intended to actually go into effect.
It was passed In the House with the support of 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats. The Senate passed the bill with 28 Republicans and 45 Democrats voting for it. Unfortunately the effort was too little, too late. The deal still hurt the country, resulting in Standard & Poor’s stripping the United States of its coveted AAA credit rating. The rating agency’s decision was due in large part to the congressional gridlock witnessed by so many. The battle’s repercussions were felt across the economy culminating in very real fears the US was headed for a double-dip recession.
Despite the blame the GOP now place on the President’s shoulders, they supported the sequester in 2011 as is evident in Speaker Boehner’s own powerpoint presentation entitled, Two-Step Approach to Hold President Obama Accountable. It was seen as an effective tool to win the massive spending cuts they demanded. This was the spending they viewed as out of control even though they, themselves, allowed pay-as-you-go legislation, or PayGo, to expire in 2002 under George W. Bush’s presidency clearing the way for large tax cuts which became significant contributors to subsequent budget deficits and national debt increases.
Fast forward to 2013, the sequestration is set to go into effect March 1st if Congress does not act. As it sits now, both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate have each produced plans to replace the sequester. Unfortunately, neither branch will consider the others’. And so the Washington love-hate relationship with the blame game continues. It’s the tactic both sides use to gain political points. Does it matter now who initiated the sequester idea or is it more important to find a solution? The President is pooling his recent reelection win, the bully pulpit and the public together to pressure the GOP to work towards a viable budgetary compromise. Is it still a tug of war over who’s to blame? Absolutely, but with a different goal. It’s about bringing the force of the country’s majority upon congressional Republicans and drive them back toward the center. It’s most certainly still a tug of war but it’s one the GOP is losing.
The situation is soon approaching when Republican leadership will have to decided if it is worth fighting for a majority of the majority or to abandon the Hastert rule, take the responsible path to bipartisanship and pass what is required to maintain the economic progress already made. If they stubbornly continue to demand the former then perhaps the voting public will determine for themselves who wins the blame game come next year’s midterm elections.