The Corner

President Obama in 2011: ‘No Easy Off-Ramps’ on Sequester


As the video clip above shows, President Obama was crystal clear in November 2011 that he would veto any congressional efforts to avert automatic spending cuts under sequestration. Here’s what he said then:

“Already, some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts. My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts – domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one.”

What are we to make, then, of the president’s sudden, full-throated assault on sequestration in the last few weeks, as he takes Congress to task for not averting the cuts, now scheduled to take effect March 1?

If we were being generous, we could say that the president has “seen the light” and realized that the sequestration cuts which his own defense secretary memorably likened to a “meat ax” chopping away at military capabilities — are hardly an ideal strategy for reducing spending. In fact, as some have pointed out on the Corner, the reductions represent a small portion of the budget.

The less generous, and perhaps more likely, explanation is that the sequester is both ineffectual policy and highly unpopular, so President Obama is determined that anyone but himself should bear the blame. Moreover, with gas prices climbing and the payroll tax rising, Americans are already feeling the pinch, and he’s worried a specter of sequestration adds to that anxiety. His last-minute, and self-interested, conversion is hardly the mark of a true leader.

The politically convenient turnabout is bad enough, but his stance against the sequester is doubly hypocritical, since, as we now know, the idea for the sequestration process originated with the president and his aides, according to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward.

With just a week to go until the sequester cuts go into effect, it’s flat-out disappointing (if not surprising) that President Obama is just now engaging on the issue. Rather than spending the last 18 months working closely with congressional Republicans to avert an outcome nobody wants and replace it with sensible spending reforms, he has elected to wait until the eleventh hour and then turn the process into a partisan political blame-game.

It’s not like we’re lacking for alternatives — and known alternatives. The politics is the difficult part, not the policy. On the defense-spending side, Senate members such as Tom Coburn (I wrote about his approach yesterday) and defense thinkers such as Brookings’ Michael O’Hanlon have laid out sensible defense-spending reforms and reductions that would preserve core capabilities. Defense is the largest part of the sequester; and if sensible reductions can be found in the Pentagon, we can certainly do the same elsewhere. Of course all of this hand-wringing on discretionary spending could be solved if the president was willing to propose even modest reforms to entitlement programs, the largest drivers of our unsustainable budget.

Perhaps if we could get President Obama to spend a few minutes talking to Senator Coburn or Michael O’Hanlon, he might find some common ground that would allow for a reasonable compromise. But he’s not likely to find that common ground when he’s too busy using his bully pulpit to blast Congress for policies that he proposed and then signed into law . . . 18 months ago.

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