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Would President Romney have prevented the 'sequester'? (+video)

Mitt Romney says he could have done better than President Obama on the sequester. But leadership depends on the balance of power as much as knocking heads.

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“In this fantasy world, all legislative obstacles can be overcome through the sheer exertion of presidential will.... If you accept the false premise that the president is all-powerful, it’s totally logical!” Professor Nyhan wrote in his definition of Green Lanternism.

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SUBTLETY.  Romney also complained to Fox’s Mr. Wallace that Mr. Obama’s response to the sequester crisis has been counterproductive. Obama flew around the country to do public rallies blaming the GOP for economic harm the sequester would allegedly cause, Romney said.

“Now, what does that do?” said Romney. “That causes the Republicans to retrench and then put up a wall and to fight back. It’s a very natural human emotion.”

We’d agree with that – Obama’s pre-sequester public campaign was an attempt to push the GOP towards his position and could well have polarized the issue more than it helped. Presidential public speeches often have that effect. The Republican lawmakers resisting the Democratic position here are doing so due to their own electoral imperatives. Most are from GOP-leaning districts or states and would pay a political price at home if they moved toward Obama.

That said, should legislators base their votes at all on the fact that the president is annoying them?

PERSUASIVENESS. Romney noted that as governor of Massachusetts he’d had to deal with a heavily Democratic legislature. He said that what Obama needs to do in the current context is stop campaigning and work on lawmakers individually.

“He’s the only one that can say to his own party: Look, you guys, I need you on this – and get some Republicans aside and, say, pull them off one by one. We don’t have to have these gridlock settings, one after the other, on issue after issue.”

OK, this sounds great but, again, exactly how does the president change minds about the core fiscal beliefs that are causing the divide between the parties? (See “Green Lantern,” above.) Does he scare them? What? President Lyndon B. Johnson used to accomplish this by liberal use of federal funds – promising Western senators huge water projects to back civil rights, for instance. But Obama doesn’t have the money to do this, and a Republican president would, in any case, likely be philosophically opposed to such an approach.

Here’s our bottom line: President Romney’s ability to handle the sequester would have been entirely dependent on his electoral context. If he’d been elected amid a GOP landslide that flipped the Senate Republican, he would indeed have prevented it, because his party would have had unified control of the government. If Democrats had held the Senate, despite his election, he’d be in the same position as Obama, only the reverse. He’d be trying to convince Senate majority leader Harry Reid and other Senate Democrats to back an all-cut package of deficit reduction.

And that’s why Obama’s in the situation he is. It’s about the balance of American power – not too few meetings and not enough knocked heads.

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