Sequester Letdown

After hyping the sequester mega disaster for weeks to scare Americans into pressuring Congress to cave in to his spending increase demands, President Obama is swiftly backtracking to explain why nothing happened when the sequester kicked in on Friday. 

President Obama has shamelessly toured the country announcing all manner of economic disasters that would befall America if Congress didn’t accede to his demands for increased federal spending. His irresponsible statements have needlessly worried Americans, and signaled weakness to our enemies through his announcements to cut defense deployments and delay construction of aircraft carriers.

Republicans have consistently pointed out that the $85 billion sequester cut is only a reduction in the scheduled increase in federal spending and not a cut of actual federal spending. When compared to the $3.6 trillion federal budget which includes an almost $1 trillion deficit, an $85 billion cut is miniscule. Republican Senator Tom Coburn pointed out that federal government agencies spend some $400 million a year on training and conference attendance. His committee found over $340 million spent on conferences costing more than $100,000! A few reporters bored with asking the same softball questions have uncovered luxury corporate jet travel by Attorney General Eric Holder and top Justice Department officials on the taxpayer’s dime.

President Obama famously scolded corporations for attending luxurious Las Vegas conferences in 2010 during the economic recession as part of his class warfare rhetoric. He was attempting to demonstrate that corporate executives weren’t feeling the effects of the recession by highlighting their continued attendance at these conferences despite the millions of workers now unemployed. The actual effect was to shame corporations into cancelling these conferences and deepening the recession in Las Vegas and Las Vegas was not amused.

Then, last year we learn an obscure federal agency known as the General Services Administration (GSA) spent an unseemly $823,000 on its 2010 annual retreat in – you guessed it – Las Vegas! Apparently, the town that was too good for greedy corporate executives was just good enough for overworked government bureaucrats to relax and unwind in luxury suites with hot tubs overlooking the Strip through picture windows. Add in a glass of wine for a picture to remember.

Americans are sick of hearing President Obama invoking the phrase “wealthy corporate jet owners” to demand higher taxes as part of his class warfare politics. He conveniently neglects the fact that the federal government operates the largest fleet of corporate jets in the world for the convenience of high-ranking bureaucrats whose salaries are paid by American taxpayers. He wants Americans to compare their pain from the economic recession to the nebulous “wealthy” out there, and not to the federal government who created the economic mess in the first place and feels absolutely none of the pain.

Invoking an old government trick used by various executive branches during a budget impasse, President Obama insisted that the sequester cuts would affect various high profile government services like air traffic control and emergency response to frighten Americans into thinking the cuts were dire enough to drastically alter our everyday experience. In a couple of over eager incidents, Education Secretary Arne Duncan had to backtrack from his enthusiastic warning that millions of teachers were being laid off in preparation for the sequester, and hundreds of illegal immigrants being held in detention centers awaiting deportment were released by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency of the Department of Homeland Security. The media could locate no teachers fired because of the sequester, and Duncan had to backtrack from the one example of a West Virginia teacher he had lamely pointed to once it was confirmed by West Virginia officials that her layoff had nothing to do with the sequester cuts. Janet Napolitano claims to have no knowledge of the illegal release of immigrants under her watch prior to sequester even going into effect.

Here we are two days into the sequester and the sky hasn’t fallen, the oceans haven’t risen, life as we know it goes on, and President Obama is left to explain why the disaster he’s hyped for weeks didn’t occur. There are fewer TSA agents to grope me at the airport? I can live with that – in fact, I’ve been looking forward to that.

When told by an aide in 1984 that the government would shut down, Reagan famously quipped “I wonder if anyone will notice.” No one did then, and no one does now. President Obama’s apocalyptic warnings of disaster make him appear foolish and full of hot air now that nothing dire has come to pass. Obama is left backpedaling and unable to lower the hyper elevated expectations he created prior to the sequester deadline. And, if Obama lied about the effects of sequester cuts, supporters now have to start wondering what else he’s lying about. The White House was even called out by Carlos Elias, the Capitol Building superintendent, who had to send out a memo reminding employees that they will not face pay cuts or furloughs despite rhetoric coming from the White House.

Veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward called out the White House hyperbole on the origination of the sequester idea by confirming that it did indeed come from the White House and not the Republican Congress. For his trouble, Woodward was subtly threatened by White House economic advisor Gene Sperling. The White House suddenly backed away with a lame explanation, but also signaled the Washington press corps that Woodward had to go for his apostasy.

Congressional Republicans burned too many times by President Obama’s bait-and-switch negotiating tactics have finally called his bluff and found that the world didn’t end. Americans aren’t preparing to march on Washington and demand Republican heads on a platter. In fact, President Obama’s poll numbers are beginning to fall as Americans tired of the constant drumbeat of government-by-disaster tune out the entire affair. Seeing nothing happen once the deadline passed only accelerates this national yawn. This moment of Obama’s presidency is best reflected in the metaphorical story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” as the child points and proclaims Obama’s nakedness.

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