The Campaign Spot

Obama Suddenly Not Winning the Sequester Fight

I don’t know if President Obama is losing the messaging battle over the sequester, but so far, he isn’t winning.

A new survey of adults from CBS News this morning: “38 percent of Americans place more blame on the Republicans in Congress, while 33 percent blame President Obama and the Democrats in Congress more for the difficulty in reaching agreement on spending cuts by the deadline.” Among independents, 33 percent blame Republicans, 31 percent blame Obama.

They find that “53 percent say they personally will be affected by the cuts in the sequester,” and run the headline, “Most feel sequester will personally affect them,” but that’s still 39 percent who said they didn’t think it would affect them, and another 7 percent who aren’t sure.

You’re seeing more writers express a conventional wisdom that the president has botched this:

Josh Kraushaar:

The headlines from the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, released Wednesday, seemed like good news for the president, but there are plenty of warning signs embedded within the survey. President’s Obama’s job-approval rating dropped 3 points overall since last December, to 50 percent, and his economic job approval is a mediocre 44 percent, down 5 points in the past two months. Despite the GOP’s deep unpopularity, Democrats hold only a statistically insignificant 2-point edge, 32 percent to 30 percent, over which party was best able to handle the economy. Republicans hold a 16-point edge on which party is best-equipped to control spending, even higher than their pre-2010 midterm standing.

Most notably, on the sequester, the White House held only a narrow advantage when respondents were presented the arguments for and against it. A bare 50 percent majority agreed with the president’s argument that the cuts “are too severe,” while 46 percent argued it is “time for dramatic measures.” Asked what Congress should do, 53 percent supported either keeping the cuts or implementing more significant spending cuts, with 37 percent backing a plan with fewer cuts. It’s hardly the sign of a presidential mandate on the subject, and a reminder that there is widespread concern over spending and the federal debt.

The White House’s strategy to exaggerate the immediate impact of the cuts has backfired, at least to some degree. The Washington Post reported that Education Secretary Arne Duncan falsely claimed that public school teachers were already receiving pink slips. The Pew Research Center this week found that only 30 percent of voters thought the spending cuts would have an impact on their personal finances — much lower than the 43 percent who believed the fiscal cliff posed a danger on that front.

Over at CQ Roll Call:

Republican aides said the GOP has maneuvered the president into a corner. Aides believe the sequester will affect Democratic constituencies more deeply than Republicans’, and by adding defense-related bills into the continuing resolution, they feel they can pacify their own hawks longer than Congressional Democrats can keep in line their members who cherish social programs.

“It’s going to be more comfortable for us than it is for them,” a House GOP leadership aide predicted.

Indeed, another senior Senate Democratic aide acknowledged that it will be hard for Democrats to keep holding the line against GOP efforts to give the president flexibility on how to implement the sequester.

Republicans also believe that they are bearing dividends of the “Williamsburg Accord,” in which Republicans agreed to push off the debt ceiling, and noted they will move a CR well in advance of a shutdown.

“Without a catastrophic news-friendly deadline . . . pressure builds slowly rather than a sudden cataclysmic event, which makes the president’s bully pulpit less effective,” the House aide said.

All this has Republican leaders thinking it is just a matter of time before Democrats come to them, hat in hand, acceding to a sequester deal without tax increases.

I like the simplicity of John Podhoretz’s theory: President Obama is getting more blame than he expected for the sequester . . . because he is there.

Maybe it’s as simple as this: The GOP is at a low point in its popularity historically, and Congress (whose lower House the GOP controls) is even more unpopular. Republicans are already being blamed for everything. So if something requires new blame, that blame has nowhere to go but in Obama’s direction.


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