Run For Your Lives: The Sequester Takes Effect

Posted: Mar 01, 2013 10:35 AM

President Obama's (miniscule) sequester cuts have taken effect -- and yet planes remain airborne, food remains edible, zombies haven't invaded shopping malls, and -- if you're reading this -- you still have a pulse.  When, as expected, both Senate bills failed on procedural votes yesterday, today's outcome became inevitable.  Filling in on Hugh Hewitt's nationally-syndicated radio show last night, I asked Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell what to expect from today's window-dressing meeting at the White House:

GB: So both Senate plans went down today, neither one is going to go into effect with any time to head over to the House anyhow. Are the sequester cuts going to be implemented tomorrow, Senator? And can you rule out a last minute, closed door deal?

MM: Yeah, there’s not going to be any deal. The sequester will kick in tomorrow. Exactly how severe that all is, the President’s trying to convince everybody, of course, it’s Armageddon. Imagine if the sequester occurred, and it had very little impact on most Americans. I think we’re going to find out, because the sequester will begin tomorrow.  

McConnell's office reinforced this commitment in a statement this morning in advance of Congressional leaders' journey down Pennsylvania Avenue: "There will be no last-minute, back-room deal and absolutely no agreement to increase taxes."  In the meantime, the Washington Post is awarding more Pinocchios to the White House for its dishonest sequester scare tactics, prompting National Journal to wonder if the president has overplayed his hand:

President Obama stood in front of a giant five-blade propeller at a Newport News, Va., shipbuilding plant on Tuesday, warning the public about the dire “meat-cleaver approach” that automatic budget cuts will have on the economy. It was the third time this month the president took his case on sequestration to the public. But even as Obama proclaims dire consequences from the cuts, he is already hedging his bets. “The impact of this policy won’t be felt overnight, but it will be real,” the president said. This was a key concession. With further skirmishes over the debt ceiling and government funding not far off, the White House finds itself in choppy political waters for the first time since Obama won reelection. Its best-case political course hinges on the economy screeching to a halt, assumes that Republicans will again cave on revenues, and relies on the public being on his side. It’s a political gamble that could go bust.

This rhetorical tweak is significant.  The administration has gone from arguing that restraining the rate of spending growth by one or two pennies on the dollar would crash the sky on March 1, to warning that these slight reductions will slowly crash the sky.  (Whoa, is that a hardened criminal set free by the sequester lurking outside your window?  Run!  Oh wait, never mind -- it's just the mailman, who's still on the job).  Charles Krauthammer still worries that President Politics won't allow himself to be embarrassed, and will therefore use all the tools at his disposal to inflict maximum hurt on the public in order to fulfill his prophesy of pain:

The Obama administration has every incentive to make the sky fall, lest we suffer that terrible calamity — cuts the nation survives. Are they threatening to pare back consultants, conferences, travel and other nonessential fluff? Hardly. It shall be air-traffic control. Meat inspection. Weather forecasting. A 2011 Government Accountability Office report gave a sampling of the vastness of what could be cut, consolidated and rationalized in Washington: 44 overlapping job training programs, 18 for nutrition assistance, 82 (!) on teacher quality, 56 dealing with financial literacy, more than 20 for homelessness, etc. Total annual cost: $100 billion-$200 billion, about two to five times the entire domestic sequester. Are these on the chopping block? No sir. It’s firemen first.

Democrats' behavior on this front has been telling.  Senate Republicans proposed legislation to grant the president extra latitude and discretion in prioritizing the sequester cuts, so that core services would be entirely unaffected.  After all, the president has been arguing that his hands are tied on these matters (never mind that he did the tying by proposing the cuts in the first place).  Republicans offered a  legislative pair of scissors to untie his hands.  The White House issued a veto threat and Harry Reid's Senate dutifully killed the plan.  The same body also blocked Democrats' -- ahem -- "solution," which would have cut the deficit by adding to it.  So the sequester it is.  Be very frightened, America.  Actually, on second thought, just enjoy the weekend.  This should help assuage any residual jitters: