Paul Greenberg

And this administration is employing it on an even grander scale, threatening to cut down not just on luxuries but essentials. And even risk the public's safety. How far is this administration was prepared to go to make a political point? Consider this news story, which appeared just as the budget cuts were taking hold last week:

"(AP) -- The Homeland Security Department released from its jails more than 2,000 illegal aliens facing deportation in recent weeks because of looming budget cuts and planned to release 3,000 more during March. The newly disclosed figures, cited in internal budget documents ... are significantly higher than the 'few hundred' illegal aliens the Obama administration acknowledged this week had been released under the budget-savings process."

There. If that doesn't scare Americans into spending more, the administration will come up with something else. (Opening the gates of a federal penitentiary or two?)

Naturally, none of the higher-ups in Washington was willing to step forward and take the blame for releasing all these prisoners. Janet Napolitano, head of Homeland Security, passed the buck expertly when she was asked about it on ABC News: "Detainee populations and how that is managed back and forth is really handled by career officials in the field."

Shades of the disaster at Benghazi. Back then, even those who formally accepted responsibility for it didn't, claiming they were out of the loop. Or as countless witnesses before the old McClellan Committee investigating organized crime used to tell prying senators: "I don't know nuttin'." In more elevated phrasing, that has become the mantra of this administration whenever something embarrassing happens on its "watch."

Meanwhile, these arbitrary cuts in the federal budget go on, and you can bet this administration will emphasize the pain, not the gain, as the president continues to campaign rather than govern. The way out of this impasse, the country will hear again and again, is not just spending cuts but higher taxes.

But the president wasn't the only one who got to deliver a weekly address about this manufactured crisis. The loyal opposition's response was delivered by a Republican congresswoman from Washington state, Cathy Rodgers, who dared resort to common sense. "The problem here isn't a lack of taxes," she said. "This year alone, the federal government will take in more revenue than ever before. Spending is the problem, which means cutting spending is the solution. It's that simple."

But simple common sense has no place in a well-oiled, well-practiced scare campaign, and the White House has only begun to roll out this one, complete with alarums and excursions. To arms! The savings are coming!

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.