Paul Greenberg

There's a secret lurking behind all that weeping and wailing over those across-the-board cuts in federal spending now going into effect -- and beginning to filter through the economy:

They're working.

The emphasis in the news continues to be on the economic repercussions of Washington's meat-ax approach to reining in the federal debt. "But lost in the talk of Washington's dysfunction," to quote a story from the New York Times over the weekend, "is this fact: On paper at least, President Barack Obama and Congress have reduced projected deficits by nearly $4 trillion over a decade -- the widely embraced goal for stabilizing the national debt. ... If the latest cuts stick, the two parties will have achieved nearly the full amount of deficit reduction over the next decade that economists and market analysts have promoted."

How about that? To make a budget balance, it's not always necessary to increase revenue. Cut spending instead, and watch savings build instead of debt, Not that this president has noticed the salutary effect of all these budget cuts -- or maybe he's just hoping that the rest of us haven't.

Even as the budget cuts went into effect, our demagogue-in-chief was still blaming those dastardly Republicans for conspiring to save the taxpayers money. In his weekly address Saturday, the president accused the GOP of having decided that "protecting special-interest tax breaks for the well-off and well-connected is more important than protecting our military and middle-class families from these cuts."

The parade of horrible -- the list of piteous victims of these budget cuts -- has only just begun. The object of all this drummed-up pity and outrage will be to make the budget cuts as noticeable, as inconvenient, even as dangerous as possible. Till the American people cry Uncle (Sam) and let the president have his free-spending way.

. .

The political strategy here is obvious: Deflect attention from the savings being made, and concentrate on what those heartless Republicans are doing to the military, the poor, air travelers ... the aggrieved of every variety. That way, the public will blame the Republicans, and the president will get to restore all the spending he's been forced to cut. (Never mind that the administration itself has chosen to make the cuts as painful as possible. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.)

This is much the same strategy that Bill Clinton, that master triangulator, adopted to dance circles around a flat-footed Newt Gingrich back in the Nineties. It worked then, so why not now?

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.