Can GOP blame Obama for the sequester?

February 19, 2013

More than 25 years ago, Representative Jack Kemp told me, “In the past, the left had a thesis: spending, redistribution of wealth and deficits. Republicans were the antithesis: spending is bad.”

He went on to explain, “Ronald Reagan represented a breakthrough for our party. We could talk about lower taxes and more growth. We didn’t have to spend all our time preaching austerity and spending cuts. The question now is: Do we take our thesis and move it further, or do we revert to an anti-spending party?”

We now have the answer. Republicans have reverted to an anti-spending party. Their latest cause? Austerity. Their argument? A shrinking economy is better than big government.

President Barack Obama tried to call the Republicans’ bluff in his State of the Union Address. “Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan,” the president said. He didn’t come out against deficit reduction. He said it should not be given a higher priority than economic growth. There are many reasons why it is important to reduce the national debt. Short-term economic growth is not one of them.

There’s little argument that the impending sequester — across-the-board government spending cuts scheduled to begin March 1 — will slow the nation’s economic growth. In fact, it’s already happening. The nation’s economy shrank in the last quarter of 2012. Economists attribute it to cutbacks in defense spending in anticipation of the sequester. More cutbacks will give us exactly what the country doesn’t need right now — austerity.

“The American people don’t believe in these austere things,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said.

Among the austere things could be an additional million Americans thrown out of work. “There is no reason,” Obama said, “that the jobs of thousands of Americans who work in national security or education or clean energy — not to mention the growth of the entire economy — should be put in jeopardy.”

Yes there is, Republicans say. It’s to make a point: We have to shrink government. If that means some economic pain, well, “No pain, no gain,” as they say in sports.

Republicans are gambling that voters will take the spending cuts in stride. Then Republicans can say, “See? We can live with smaller government.” The financial markets have already absorbed the spending cuts and are hitting record highs. Safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare are protected from the cuts. Taxes are not going up.

Americans who live in areas hard hit by spending cuts — near military bases, for example — are likely to squawk. But Republicans think they can blame the president.

He’s in charge, isn’t he? Why didn’t he do something to stop us? Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the military situation “desperate” but then added, “It’s not desperate enough to raise taxes.”

Democrats believe this will be like the government shutdown in 1995, which discredited the Republican Congress and helped get President Bill Clinton re-elected. It’s not likely to be that dramatic — at first — because the cuts will not occur all at once. But there is another looming deadline at the end of March, when the federal government really could shut down if Congress doesn’t pass a budget.

Tea Party Republicans are willing to take that risk. They want to demonstrate that government spending is so out of control that extreme actions must be taken to cut it back. Most of them, however, weren’t in Congress in 1995.

Obama learned something in his first term. He learned from bitter experience — particularly the debt ceiling episode in 2011 — that you can’t make deals with Tea Party Republicans.  “You can’t be reasonable with unreasonable people,” one White House adviser told the Financial Times. How unreasonable? In the January Pew poll, 59 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents said “I like elected officials who make compromises with people they disagree with.” Only 36 percent of Republicans felt the same way.

The president is now taking his case directly to the American people, rallying supporters around the country and keeping his 2012 campaign operation going. He’s making the case for government, something he started doing in his second Inaugural Address and in his State of the Union speech. Government should not just keep the economy growing, Obama argues, but also fix problems that the market can’t solve — like our increasing economic inequality or the declining competitiveness of U.S. workers.

Republicans believe that if they keep Congress fixated on an unending fiscal crisis — first the sequester, then the federal budget, later the debt ceiling — they won’t have to pay attention to the programs Obama proposed in his State of the Union speech. Like raising the minimum wage to lessen inequality. And universal pre-school to help make American workers more competitive. Republicans believe they can just run out the clock.

They think they have Obama over a barrel by forcing him to defend big government. They thought the same thing during the campaign last summer when Obama said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” Meaning, government played a role in making your business profitable.

Republicans tried to turn Obama’s comment into the central meme of their campaign. Delegates at the Tampa Republican convention chanted “We built it!” on the convention floor. “You didn’t build that” was supposed to be the equivalent of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe.

But guess what? Obama won.

It just may be possible — for the first time since 1980 — to defend big government and survive.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaking at the Hyde Park Academy in Chicago, Illinois, February 15, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

PHOTO (Insert):  Jack Kemp, the GOP vice-presidential nominee. August 10, 1996. REUTERS/Luc Novovitch


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

I stopped when the writer blamed forth quarter negative growth on a sequester that hasn’t happened yet. Oh, yes, sequestration was Obama’s brain child. It’s his. Ludicrous article.

Posted by Eddie_Haskell | Report as abusive

No. But that wont stop them from doing it anyway.

Posted by Grandpa_Tarkin | Report as abusive

Government cannot be trusted to do anything but fill the pockets of the elitist government leaders. Sorry I have completely lost faith and confidence in the government of my country.

Posted by ajmg1 | Report as abusive

The whole point of the sequester was to give them time to come up with spending cuts. Obama absolutely refuses to talk cuts. He wants only tax hikes.

Yes. We can blame Obama for the sequester.

Posted by Dragos111 | Report as abusive

$85 Billion cuts out of a budget of $3.5 Trillion. That’s 2.4%. TWO POINT FOUR PERCENT! There isn’t a management team worth its salt that can’t make up 2.4% in a year with cost reductions and reduced spending for their business. Clinton cut gov spending and out economy grew. Obama claims this will be a disaster. Why hasn’t Bill Clinton commented on this issue? Heck, every worker in the US saw 2% less money in their paychecks thanks to the SS payroll tax increase. WE are making due. It’s about time this president makes due as well. Even the CBO stated that this will be better in the long run, compared to continued deficit spending. LET THE SEQUESTRATION HAPPEN!

Posted by ChuckK | Report as abusive

Wasn’t the sequester Obama’s idea or, as Obama admits, “put forth by his team”? Why does the media now suggest that Obama gets a free pass?

Posted by Back2Sleep | Report as abusive

My question is: Why would anyone WANT Big Government? Government is nothing but overhead on the economy, it produces nothing, creates nothing, and simply spends the money that we all earn and could otherwise spend ourselves? Unless you beleive in wealth re-distribution, that is taking money away from those who legitimately earn it and giving it to those who have no right to it, then I must ask again, Why would anyone WANT Big Government?

Posted by AQuietDragon | Report as abusive

It’s too bad the sequester doesn’t make a cut in the number of Senators and Representatives. That would also help reduce the deficit. We don’t need Congressmen if we are going to pick a number and do across the board cuts.

Posted by gusiii | Report as abusive

Trash article. Fails to understand that government spending actually stifles real economic growth. The great depression ended in 1947 when the government slashed its budget by 50% after 17 years of government spending killing the private economy. It is a socialist fallacy that purports economic growth could possibly come from government spending!

Posted by haaggus | Report as abusive

The problem with the debt is that Republicans abandoned the so called “Gephardt Rule.” which required the debt ceiling to be raised to match actual appropriationsnas part of the appropriation process. Then they made the problem worse by instead of doing their job and appropriating money for the coming fiscal year, they went back to try and cut the already in progress fiscal year budget, making it impossible for the House to ever get ahead of the curve and pass an annual budget before a budget year starts.

The situation we have now is so dysfunctional that now would be the ideal time to directly attack the USA. Constitutionally the President has exclusive power over foreign affairs, but it means nothing if he doesn’t have money to back what he says.

The Republicans are also being hyprocrits because all of the debt added as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product above the rate of inflation was added by Republican Presidents since President Richard Nixon up until the Obama Presidency which confronted a grave risk of a repeat of the Great Depression which has also recurred about every 50 years of so in the past, just like banking bailouts which occur now about once per generation.

Posted by SeniorMoment | Report as abusive

The President and the Congress negotiated this deal, the Congress passed this deal, the President signed this deal. The concept (such as it was) was “We can’t act sensibly now, so we will act so irresponsibly now that we will be forced to act sensibly later”. Well, now it’s later, and OMG, we STILL can’t act sensibly. Teetering along the brink, hoping to control the dialog so as to place the bulk of the blame on Them, not Me.
I really don’t think most rational people ever believed that an irrational act today would be very likely to cause a rational act later. “I will gladly pay you on Thursday for a hamburger today.”: Wimpy J. Wimple.

Posted by Frank_Maunder | Report as abusive

It is not spending cuts.Its a reduction in spending increases.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

The sequester was created to force Republicans to vote like America and match spending and tax raises on the privileged elite who have been profiting hand over fist and subsidized by everyone else through their lack of wealth tax for all the private sector leverage and power they get from Uncle Sam. Republicans will pay the price for going against the polls of what American wants.

Government is not Big given the task it has today (huge wealth+opportunity disparity and too many wars). It’s of a respectable size and reducing .. in a responsible way with Obama or irresponsible with Republicans choosing sequester over cutting deductions for the very wealthy and low tax paying corporations and elite who don’t even pay a wealth tax. Our government is smaller than those of many nations who have longer longevity than we do and greater opportunity for the average citizen.

Who needs referees and police for business dealings and dispatching of US economic resources and pollution and for widespread public education so that its not primarily the kids of wealthy who have knowledge and some opportunity?

The Republicans accept birth privilege. They support wealth begets wealth as the dominate lever rather than hard work begetting wealth. They love for the current crop of Board Walk and Park Place “monopolists” to pass on the wealth as they choose without any game reset of the feedforward system. They don’t believe in parity of opportunity. And they accomplish their levers with Uncle Sam. They go to courts to sue for contracts and other levers that otherwise they’d have to fight out.. leading to a violence not desired by the founding fathers and detrimental to fairness of opportunity, security of most citizens, and the founding principles of this nation.

If Romney had won — as was expected by most of the very wealthy — this would not have been a time to cut back or austerity. But because a Democrat got reelected, they want austerity.

But the Republicans are going against the polls on many issues and they will pay in 2014 like they did in 2012.. and forget about 2016 where they have an overwhelming majority of Senators up for reelection.

Posted by Jose_X | Report as abusive

Please help me – i’m confused on what point this writer is trying to make… the govt currently accounts for 1/3 of the U.S. economy, and borrows 40% of it’s so called budget. So we’re talking about 15% of the economy is borrowed money. And the economy actually shrank last month because of these ‘unreasonable’ tea party people who believe that spending is out of control. Now they’re going to shrink it even more by allowing sequestration to rear its ugly head….cutting into a part of the economy that shouldn’t even exist? I don’t understand

Posted by Drisgorilla | Report as abusive

haaggus, the Great Depression did not end in 1947, and the US economy even got a further boost from the war spending during the early 1940s. The uptrend in real GDP and in employment started with the election of Roosevelt in 1932. You can look all of this up on the Internet without too much trouble.

The sequester is an irresponsible mechanism created to pressure responsible action. All the players there at the time it was signed (Obama and Congressional leaders) all agreed on that point. Obama has been very clear all along, the clearest of this group, that the sequester is not supposed to be accepted or else Americans will suffer. He has repeatedly asked Congress to pass responsible cuts and revenues ahead of the deadline.

If Americans suffer, they will punish at the polls the group that was unwilling to compromise and was unwilling to follow the vote of most Americans, opting to favor the 1% over the 99%.

Our deficit is already going down significantly.

Republicans will keep losing the political middle if they keep their stubborness up.

Obama has responsible cuts and tax rises for the privileged wealthy and which is still relatively gentle on the privileged elite (not even paying a wealth tax for all their private sector leverage thanks to Uncle Sam).

Plus, the 1% is heavily invested in assets. Who do you think has been buying with their spare cash while most Americans have been selling and paying off debt? Duh.

Anyway, I say that without a wealth tax, our courts should not recognize any claims to wealth that go beyond 5 million for any individual or corporation. The wealthy have guns and what not. If they don’t want to pay a yearly wealth tax, they should try to resolve claims themselves without Uncle Sam.. more so since the privileged bunch is way underrepresented in the military and in the economy in terms of hard work and risks. Their existing wealth leverage (thanks to Uncle Sam) makes risks much lower and earnings much higher per unit of work.

Posted by Jose_X | Report as abusive

The President can put extreme pressure on the House Republicans simply by making the sequestration cuts focus on employers and reserve units in their Districts, it he choses to do so. There is no question that layoffs of tens of thousands of not just government, but private sector workers will be involved, as well as additional cost incurred from stretching out programs in a way that requires renegotiation of procurement contracts.

Posted by SeniorMoment | Report as abusive

The Republicans should easily be able to pin it on Obama. He’s the one who proposed the cuts in the first place, and also said that he would veto ANY attempt to circumvent them.

The sequestration cuts belong to Obama.

Posted by Yashmak | Report as abusive

I am interested. Two thirds of the comments above were written in the same hand. Same style. Same verbiage. Same vocabulary. Different names. many of the rest are the same style over and over. Why would three or four guys get together to write the same things in the same ways over and over, then just leave?

Posted by Marcuscassius | Report as abusive

As far as I can see the president is bending over backward. the GOP isn’t eve trying. The pres. had a good idea. The GOP? Nuthin. The still want all the breaks. the breaks are all for corps and the rich or they just say NO. They always say no, unless it gets something for the richest. It’s like they want to set up little baronies and dukedoms. They want total control of the treasury. they talk about fiscal responsibility but they spend like drunken sailors when they get the purse strings. Almost the entirety of the debt is Republican caused. Why should we listen to them ever? They need to be voted out.

Posted by Marcuscassius | Report as abusive

You can bet they will try!

Posted by GOPisbs | Report as abusive

The President is grandstanding again. He got his increased taxes on those rich, evil SOBs but he doesn’t believe that there’s a spending problem. He’s counting on the fact that his “tax the rich” BS still has legs. His idea of compromise is “My way or the highway.”
Of course the sequester will hit only those government functions that are necessary (police, fire, teachers, military preparedness, etc.) How about the overhead costs of the EPA, DOE, etc.

Hold tight all you who voted for him. Recently Howard Dean (remember him?) said clearly that “everyone is going to have to pay more taxes.” Welcome to the redistribution of wealth!

Posted by Pilgrim1620 | Report as abusive

There IS a spending problem. The spending problem is entirely and completely on the Senate and the House. Because all the President can ever do is say “Here’s what the government needs to spend to keep up with the laws and regulations and responsibilities that Congress has laid upon them.”

It’s up to the House and the Senate to actually pass a budget and appropriations, and ever since Reagan, Congress has been spending money it didn’t have. Reagan took the slight *surplus* and the USA’s position as the worlds leading *lender*, and reversed it. And successive Congress’ have since turned the USA into the world’s biggest *debtor.*

Posted by Burns0011 | Report as abusive

The Republican’s claim the president refuses to discuss spending cuts (after he organized 3 separate bi-partisan committees to cut spending in his 1st term). But it’s his fault that we will cut 2.4% in spending on 1 March? The Republican’s ran on a campaign of increasing Defense spending and more tax breaks for the richest in 2012? That would actually add more to the debt. Is there some kind of valid point the Republicans are trying to make in all of this double talk?

Posted by xyz2055 | Report as abusive

They all agreed to it, but Obama pushed for it; so yes they can blame Obama more than others.
Obama’s budgets were so bad not even a single Democrat voted for them. The Democrat Senate has not passed a budget in four years. It is useless to talk about reducing the debt when socialist Democrats are in charge.

Posted by bobpenn | Report as abusive

Bob Woodward’s article in the Washington Post today (23 Feb) tells that Jack Lew, the Obama pick for SecTreas, was one of the major proponents of the “sequester” drama.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive

“The spending cuts are Obama’s fault because he refuses to cut spending!!”

Do you Rs have any idea how incredibly stupid you sound?

Posted by 4ngry4merican | Report as abusive