Make Obama decide how to deal with sequester

White House/Pete Souza

President Barack Obama meets with senior advisors in the Oval Office, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • President Obama wants to blame the GOP for spending cuts. The GOP should let Obama decide how to make the cuts.

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  • Replace the cleaver with a scalpel in Obama’s hands and say: You can’t decide if to cut, but where and how to cut.

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  • Giving Obama authority over cuts would stop him from blaming the GOP for causing layoffs or harming public safety.

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Barack Obama wants to blame Republicans for the looming across-the-board spending cuts that will take effect this week. Well, here is a simple sequester solution for the GOP: Let Obama decide how to make the cuts.

The problem with the sequester is not the amount of cuts it requires. Cuts of $85 billion this year is about 2 percent of our $3.5 trillion federal budget, or about nine days of federal spending. Even after the sequester, we will still spend about $15 billion more this year than we did in last year. The sequester does not actually "cut" spending - it simply slows its growth.

The problem with the sequester is that the cuts are indiscriminate, hitting both critical and unnecessary programs with equal force. And it is the indiscriminate nature of the cuts that Obama is using to bludgeon Republicans.

At an campaign-style rally with first-responders last week, Obama decried this "meat-cleaver approach," which he said will "jeopardize our military readiness" and "eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research." The ability of emergency personnel "to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded," Obama declared. "Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced. FBI agents will be furloughed. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country. Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings."

In other words, Armageddon.

Obama wants Americans to blame the GOP for this litany of disasters, but Republicans can solve that problem with one simple stroke: Pass a bill giving the president complete authority to allocate the automatic spending cuts as he sees fit. Replace the "meat cleaver" with a scalpel, put it Obama's hands and tell him: Mr. President, you can't decide if to cut, but you can decide where and how to cut.

If Obama chooses to cut funding for first-responders and our military while protecting his administration's corrupt green-energy programs, that will be his choice - and Americans will know it. Republicans may not like the choices Obama makes, but the president will own them. And Obama would no longer be able to blame the GOP for causing layoffs or harming public safety or undermining national security - because Republicans would have given him full authority to prevent those disastrous cuts.

So far Obama has resisted every effort to have more sensible cuts. When Republicans tried to replace across-the-board cuts with more targeted reductions in 2011, Obama said bluntly: "My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy offramps on this one."

Now it is Obama who is looking for an offramp - and he isn't getting one.

So the president is reviving his tired rhetoric about a "balanced approach." He wasn't terribly concerned about "balance" a few weeks ago, when Congress passed a massive $600 billion tax increase, with no spending cuts. Now that automatic spending cuts are about to be kick in, Obama wants to replace those cuts with more tax increases? That is not going to happen.

He had his chance to include tax hikes as part of the sequester when he proposed it in 2011. But as Bob Woodward reported this weekend, Obama agreed to forgo tax hikes in exchange for a higher priority: putting off another debt-ceiling increase until after the 2012 election. By demanding tax increases now, Woodward says, Obama is "moving the goal posts."

Republicans should respectfully inform Obama that, while there is no offramp for the spending cuts, he can choose how to implement them. Since Obama complains that the sequester does not distinguish between "some bloated program that has outlived its usefulness, or a vital service that Americans depend on every single day," Republicans should give him the power to cut bloated programs and protect vital services.

Obama may not want such authority, but it would be hard for him to turn it down. And even if he did, it would not matter - because his ability to blame Republicans for cuts to the military, first-responders, teachers and law enforcement would evaporate. Obama can't complain about having to wield a "meat cleaver" if he has rejected a scalpel.


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Marc A.
  • A member of the White House senior staff under President George W. Bush, Marc A. Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to the president and to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Prior to joining the Bush administration, Thiessen spent more than six years as spokesman and senior policy adviser to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). He is a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, and his articles can be found in many major publications. His book on the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation program, Courting Disaster (Regnery Press, 2010), is a New York Times bestseller. At AEI, Thiessen writes about U.S. foreign and defense policy issues for The American and the Enterprise Blog. He appears every Sunday on Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends" and makes frequent appearances on other TV and talk radio programs.

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