Obama Rejects Sequester Scalpel for Meat Cleaver

Ezra Klein notes a “weird” twist in the sequester stand-off:

On the sequester, the Republicans want to give the White House the chance to use a scalpel rather than a meat cleaver. And the White House is saying, basically, no thanks. Meanwhile, Republicans badly want to means-test Medicare — but they never seem to talk about the White House’s proposal to means-test Medicare.

That’s the lead-in to an interesting 18:47 video discussion with Sarah Kliff available at the link.

The upshot is that, while the administration has correctly pointed out that the main problem with the sequester is the stupidity of having to take cuts across-the-board rather than being able to make rational decisions as to which programs to trim, the beauty in that “meat cleaver” approach is that he can at least blame the Republicans. Given the authority to make line-item rescissions, though, and he’d be held accountable for each and every cut, which Republicans would naturally use against him on the campaign trail ahead of the midterm elections.

In a related blog post (“Republicans want to make the sequester better. Why won’t Obama let them?“), though, he hits at a more basic issue: the administration has misrepresented their own position.

The bottom line is that Republican bill makes the sequester easier to live with, and the White House doesn’t want the sequester to be easier to live with. The point of these poorly constructed spending cuts, in the White House’s view, is that they’re hard to live with, and that forces both sides to compromise. Making the sequester a bit better makes it much harder to replace.

There’s been a lot of talk of “meat axes” and “across-the-board cuts” and the general idiocy of the sequester’s design. But all that is, in the end, distraction. The fight over the GOP’s sequester replacement is the clearest distillation yet of the two side’s positions.

Republicans basically support the sequester because it’s all spending cuts, but they want the cuts allocated more intelligently. The White House opposes the sequester because it hits the economy too hard in 2013 and because it doesn’t include tax increases, and so they want it replaced with a compromise proposal. And so Republicans want to make the sequester a bit better and a lot more permanent while the White House opposes efforts to make the sequester better precisely because it would make it more permanent.

I think that’s right.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. J-Dub says:

    He should take a scalpel to any Tea Bag district.

  2. JKB says:

    @J-Dub: He should take a scalpel to any Tea Bag district.

    What do you have against gay people?

    Or are you thinking of any sexually libertine district?

    In either case, Nancy Pelosi would be hit hardest.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    During the debt ceiling fight the GOPs kept saying it would be OK to hit the limit because Obama could prioritize what we could spend and make it OK. Now they want the sequester to go through, but Obama’s supposed to prioritize (in violation of the law which says cuts across the board) and make it OK. The Tea Party GOPs in the House want to do any stupid thing they feel like; and then daddy Obama is suppose to come in and make it all right?! Gutless, juvenile, delusional twits. Once again James, where does your party find these people? And why?

  4. CB says:

    The only reason the GOP proposed this “fix” was to attempt to claim the credit for pushing spending cuts in general, while being able to point fingers at Obama when and if the public starts to complain about losing specific services. This whole thing is a sham.

  5. rudderpedals says:

    It’s obviously moot because Boehner’s House would never hand over a scalpel. What’s up with Obama being the problem? Isn’t the actual problem Congressional failure to repeal the sequester?

  6. David M says:

    To be fair, it’s worth noting that the GOP is advocating a giving Obama a scalpel that allows him to make adjustments that the GOP is likely to approve of as well, so it’s not a “here’s a scalpel to make things better”. The GOP are offering to let Obama cut more from areas the GOP cares less about without further cuts in programs they care more about, so it’s not a real proposal people should take seriously.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t know, man, but I am getting just a faint warning bell of a hand being overplayed by the White House.

  8. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Good blog headline. But truth be told nobody is taking a cleaver to anything.

    A cleaver would be to cut in half or at least by a quarter in real terms the budgets of every federal department and agency. And not in the D.C. cogntiive dissonance sense of reductions in the growth rates of future spending. I mean actual cuts. If you spent $50 billion last year, for example, you get $25 billion to spend next year.

    That’s a cleaver. Of course the chances of that actually happening in real life only are about equal to the chances of getting rid of poverty, crime, blight, unemployment and rampant dropouts, in big liberal cities controlled for decades by liberal Democrats. IOW less than zero.

    Means testing Medicare is a ludicrous idea. If you paid FICA taxes for enough quarters you should be entitled to get a benefit for your tax dollars. Would we means test military pensions? Obviously not. Why should Medicare be different?

    What we need to do about Medicare is simply sunset the entire system. Wean younger members of Zombieland off of the idea of needing Uncle Sam’s healthcare plan. Those currently on the program would stay on it. Those above age 50 could claim it, but at age 75. But those under age 50 fend for themselves. It’s high time for a good swift kick in the arse, rather than reasurring pats on the back. Then we should increase ten fold the annual contribution caps for HSA plan accounts, so that younger people actually can build up enough money to pay for their healthcare needs when they get older.

    Speaking of entitlements, ultimately this whole dog & pony show faux debate is a whistled tune past the graveyard. We’ve already devolved into Europe West with higher crime rates and worse education programs. That means slow to negative growth, extremely high unemployment rates and extremely high poverty rates. Now in perpetuity. Then Social Security will implode and put the final nails into the country’s fiscal and economic coffins. If the U.S. were a horse it’d be sent to the glue factory.

  9. Ben Wolf says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Are you dumb?

  10. David M says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    What we need to do about Medicare is simply sunset the entire system. Wean younger members of Zombieland off of the idea of needing Uncle Sam’s healthcare plan. Those currently on the program would stay on it. Those above age 50 could claim it, but at age 75. But those under age 50 fend for themselves. It’s high time for a good swift kick in the arse, rather than reasurring pats on the back. Then we should increase ten fold the annual contribution caps for HSA plan accounts, so that younger people actually can build up enough money to pay for their healthcare needs when they get older.

    That’s the problem with most of the GOP right there, assuming these programs were put into place for no reason, and everything would be better if we just eliminated them.

  11. john personna says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    What we need to do about Medicare is simply sunset the entire system. Wean younger members of Zombieland off of the idea of needing Uncle Sam’s healthcare plan. Those currently on the program would stay on it. Those above age 50 could claim it, but at age 75. But those under age 50 fend for themselves. It’s high time for a good swift kick in the arse, rather than reasurring pats on the back. Then we should increase ten fold the annual contribution caps for HSA plan accounts, so that younger people actually can build up enough money to pay for their healthcare needs when they get older.

    MR points to this Ezra Klein piece:

    How the aging of America is hurting the Republican Party

    You definitely have the “old man’s party” down.

  12. wr says:

    @Ben Wolf: “@Tsar Nicholas: Are you dumb? ”

    Do you really have to ask?

  13. CB says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    That’s why we’re growing faster than Europe, right?

    Just stop. Seriously. It getting painful.

  14. de stijl says:

    @wr:

    @Ben Wolf: “@Tsar Nicholas: Are you dumb? ”

    Do you really have to ask?

    You could follow my path and just skip certain comments based upon the author. Life is much more pleasant that way.

    A filter to hide comments based on the author would be superfantabulous, though.

  15. anjin-san says:

    any sexually libertine district?

    Why do conservatives get so bent out of shape when they find out someone is getting laid?

  16. An Interested Party says:

    What do you have against gay people?

    Or are you thinking of any sexually libertine district?

    In either case, Nancy Pelosi would be hit hardest.

    It’s so sad to observe someone who thinks he’s being clever when he’s really just being lame…to try to turn teabagging into a term that specifically applies to gay people is about as stupid as saying that AIDS is a gay person’s disease…better pithy comments please…

  17. Lynda says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:
    So you say that this is ludicrous

    Means testing Medicare is a ludicrous idea. If you paid FICA taxes for enough quarters you should be entitled to get a benefit for your tax dollars.

    but all those people under 50 who have paid Medicare taxes, some for many “quarters” as you put it, this is OK?

    Those currently on the program would stay on it. Those above age 50 could claim it, but at age 75. But those under age 50 fend for themselves

  18. michael reynolds says:

    @anjin-san:

    Why do conservatives get so bent out of shape when they find out someone is getting laid?

    Oh, I think we know that. Mencken said it best:

    Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

  19. Moosebreath says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    “@Tsar Nicholas: Are you dumb?”

    Do you have no short term memory?

  20. JKB says:

    I’m not the one suggesting they take a scalpel to a tea bag district.

    Your conservative districts probably don’t have so much of the more innovative sexual practices. So J-Dub seems to be advocating for discrimination in government spending against those who enjoy the less conventional practices?

  21. Just nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Ben Wolf: As long as you’ve been listening to Tsar (and I still think “Baron” [as in von Munchausen] would be better), that’s your question?

  22. Dazedandconfused says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I don’t know, man, but I am getting just a faint warning bell of a hand being overplayed by the White House.

    In the over-hyping of the effects? Nothing faint about that. More like the smoke detector going off at 3:00AM, right over the bed.

    But he can’t pick up this cynical “scalpel”. It’s a homing device for the military industrial complex Deathstar of free $peach.