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Who will the public blame if the sequester hits?
With potentially damaging automatic government spending cuts looming, Republicans and Democrats point fingers at each other
 
President Obama makes a statement on Feb. 19 while surrounded by first responders who could lose their jobs if the cuts happen.
President Obama makes a statement on Feb. 19 while surrounded by first responders who could lose their jobs if the cuts happen. Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Obama is cranking up the pressure on Republicans, insisting they'll be the ones the public will blame for the economic damage that could result if Congress doesn't do something to avoid deep, automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect in 10 days. On Tuesday, Obama urged GOP lawmakers to pass a Democratic stopgap proposal that would trim deficits with more modest spending cuts and extra revenue from closed tax loopholes, but delay for the rest of the year deep reductions in defense and other spending, which would slash $1.2 trillion from the next decade of deficits. "It won't help the economy. It won't create jobs. It will visit hardship on a whole lot of people," Obama said, and "add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls."

Republicans were not moved. They dismissed Obama's speech as an attempt to shift blame for the spending cuts, which were part of a 2011 debt deal Obama signed, to the GOP, while making a compromise unacceptable by insisting on tax hikes he knows Republicans can't accept. "The president offered no credible plan that can pass Congress — only more calls for higher taxes," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. This, says Tom McCarthy at Britain's Guardian, is "the hot-potato stage of things, when Republicans and the president toss blame back and forth in an effort not to be stuck with it when the magical chime sounds." Republicans say they'd take smaller budget cuts if Obama would only play ball, and the president, surrounded by firefighters and other emergency responders who might lose their jobs if the sequester hits, insists a deal would be possible if only the GOP would put the country first. The question is, who will the public believe?

Conservatives say it's pointless for Obama to point fingers at Republicans because, they assert, it was Obama's idea in the first place. "Liberals seem to have convinced themselves they will wriggle free from the Obama sequester," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post, and that's probably because they got the GOP to cave on the fiscal cliff when the year began. But this time there's no sign of GOP "weak-kneedness," and with good reason. The sequester is Obama's baby, a scheme to force Republicans to back down by holding defense cuts over their heads. Now Obama's the one who has to cave, or pay the price for the damage he brings down on the economy.

Inertia has its place in politics. It gave Obama the upper hand in the fiscal cliff deal because doing nothing would have been unfathomable for the GOP (i.e. everyone's taxes would have gone up). Now the inertia works for Republicans; doing nothing gets them the remainder of the spending cuts spelled out in the 2011 Budget Control Act. So they sit back. It is the president flailing away, trying to get them to change his own creation. [Washington Post]

According to Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast, however, the GOP argument that the sequester was Obama's idea is only half true. Obama only suggested it as a way of preventing the GOP from torpedoing the economy by letting the federal government hit the debt ceiling, run out of money, and default on its obligations. So the sequester was Obama's idea "in much the way that it's a parent's 'idea' to pay ransom to a person who has taken his child hostage." Americans — at least those "outside of Fox News land" — know full well who's the hostage-taker in this scenario. And if they forget, Republicans will obligingly remind them in the coming days, and reap the blame they so richly deserve for any economic pain that follows.

It sure isn't going to be looking very responsible to people, as the March 1 sequestration deadline approaches, for Republicans to be going before the cameras and saying that the cuts are unfortunate but necessary medicine, or whatever formulation they come up with. They've wanted these spending reductions for two years. It hardly matters much who invented the mechanism for the cuts. What matters, as the Republicans will find out, is that the people don't want them. [Daily Beast]

 

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