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Whose idea was the sequester? And does it matter? (+video)

The Republicans point to Bob Woodward's book as evidence it's the 'Obamaquester.' Democrats counter with a Boehner slideshow that just resurfaced. The public is left scratching its head. 

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Still, reminders of that bipartisan vote haven’t stopped the blame game. In an opinion article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, Speaker Boehner asserts once again that Obama “invented” the sequester, and that the president’s warnings about its fast-approaching implementation are ironic, given that it is a product of the president’s own “failed leadership.”

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Boehner acknowledges that both congressional Republicans and Democrats “reluctantly” went along with the sequester, as part of the BCA, which kept the nation from defaulting on its debt. Furthermore, the sequester would not have come into play if Congress’s bipartisan “supercommittee” – another creation of the BCA – had fulfilled its task: coming up with $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years.

Boehner and Obama have put out conflicting versions of what each proposed behind closed doors in the summer of 2011, creating an endless loop of “he said, he said.” The public is left with little to go on in assessing the mess.

The reality is, most Americans don’t get what’s going on. The word “sequester” is hardly a part of everyday discourse. A poll published by The Hill newspaper on Feb. 11 found that only 36 percent of voters know what the sequester is.

Another 38 percent thought they knew, but picked the wrong answer. Twenty percent thought it had something to do with the debt limit. Eight percent thought it referred to a forthcoming ruling by the Supreme Court on the federal budget.

“Such a case would come as news to Chief Justice John Roberts,” the Hill quipped.

This widespread public confusion creates a big opening for public relations. Thus the Boehner op-ed. Ditto Obama’s event on Tuesday at the White House, where he surrounded himself with emergency responders and called on Congress to take a “balanced approach” that includes additional tax revenues – and keeps federal programs running and workers on the job.

The Republican effort to brand the latest Beltway crisis as the “Obama sequester” – by repeating that phrase over and over – should not be dismissed, says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Ms. Jamieson agrees that it’s a game, but it’s still important.

The Democrats have not effectively developed a line and repeated it as often [in a way] that offers the alternative narrative,” she says. “The nature of repetition is such that when we hear something repeated and unrebutted, we’re likely to believe it.”


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