WH Gag Rule on Sequester May Be Intended to Gain Leverage on Tax Increases

by Eliana Johnson

The debate over sequestration has ratcheted into high gear in recent weeks and, as it turns out, that’s not only because the automatic budget cuts are set to go into effect a week from today. The Obama administration recently lifted a gag order on its Cabinet members that prevented them from discussing the $1.2 billion spending cuts, according to Politico, and has since unleashed them to describe in lurid detail the damage that the sequester will inflict on the American people.

Until recently, the Office of Management and Budget led the White House’s messaging war on the domestic discretionary spending cuts while agency heads were kept “on a short leash.” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House speaker John Boehner, tells National Review Online, “It’s incredible that the administration apparently told the entire executive branch to be silent on this issue as House Republicans were acting to prevent and replace the sequester cuts.” The House in May passed a bill that would replace the sequester by shifting defense cuts to domestic programs including food stamps and Medicaid, cuts Steel calls “smarter and better” than the ones currently set to go into effect.

With the reported gag now history, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano is warning that cuts to FEMA will impact the nation’s disaster preparedness; Education secretary Arne Duncan is saying that the sequester will hamper the country’s ability to develop a workforce that can compete in the global economy; and the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, is claiming that more than 100,000 formerly homeless people may wind up back on the streets.

Steel expresses outrage that “rather than pass a bill and work to get something done to stop it” the administration has “lifted this gag and is encouraging the Cabinet to trumpet the terrible consequences.”

The president’s decision to silence some of his most effective surrogates may be an indication that his intent is not to avert budget cuts in the short term but to increase taxes in the long term. “I worry that his real goal here is to let the sequester take effect and to use these devastating cuts to our national security to achieve his goal of even higher taxes,” Steel says. The administration has proposed a plan that includes a tax increase on those earning over $1 million as well as closing tax loopholes and ending subsidies for oil companies. The fiscal-cliff deal agreed to in January by Congress and the president raised taxes on those making more than $450,000.


President Obama told Baltimore’s CBS affiliate on Tuesday, “I don’t know why it is in this town that people leave stuff until the last minute. There’s no other profession, no other industry where people wait until the eleventh hour to solve these big problems.” From all indications, it appears that the White House’s decision to unleash its Cabinet members, along with their dire warnings, may have contributed to the panic that is enveloping Capitol Hill as the deadline to avert the sequester approaches. 

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