Sequester: 'It's your fault....No, your fault!' (+video)
With just five days to go until the sequester's automatic spending cuts kick in, what's Washington doing about it? Not negotiating like responsible adults, but mainly pointing fingers of blame.
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“My extensive reporting for my book ‘The Price of Politics’ shows that the automatic spending cuts were initiated by the White House and were the brainchild of [then-budget director] Lew, during the negotiations and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors – probably the foremost experts on budget issues in the senior ranks of the federal government,” Mr. Woodward wrote. “Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid…. Nabors has told others that they checked with the president before going to see Reid. A mandatory sequester was the only action-forcing mechanism they could devise.”Skip to next paragraph
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As Woodward notes, a majority of Republicans did vote for the Budget Control Act, which included the sequester. But, he adds, “Key Republican staffers said they didn’t even initially know what a sequester was – because the concept stemmed from the budget wars of the 1980s, when they were not in government.”
In any case, the Woodward piece – written by one of the most influential journalists in Washington – gave plenty of political ammo to Republicans to cite for what House Speaker John Boehner has taken to calling the “Obamaquester.”
The White House finds it necessary to dispute the Woodward account of responsibility – initially, at least – for a budget maneuver with no readily-acknowledged paternity. White House press secretary Jay Carney calls Woodward’s charge that Obama had “moved the goal posts” on budget negotiations by seeking new revenues to accompany spending cuts “willfully wrong.”
In a two-page statement Sunday, the White House elaborated:
“There has never been any question that the President seeking revenues as part of a plan to replace the automatic cuts in the sequester was expected from the very beginning in the 2011 fiscal negotiations and the passage of the Budget Control Act. That the President today is seeking a balanced plan to replace it with revenues and entitlement reforms cannot in even the slightest way be considered a change of policy, a change of expectations, or moving the goalposts.”
With that, Woodward fired back.
"The White House pushback is a classic case of distortion and confusion," Woodward said in an e-mail to Politico on Sunday. "We unfortunately have seen this too often in recent presidential history.... I do not think it is willful. They are just mixed up, surprisingly so."
The psychology behind what's happening now has become a topic for professional discussion.
"It's often believed that you won't be able to extract the very best concession from the other side unless you are on the brink of something that's very bad," Robert Mnookin chairman of Harvard's Program on Negotiation and author of "Bargaining with the Devil,” tells The Associated Press. "It's a hugely dangerous game to play because people aren't always rational in their behavior."
In any case, as Jake Miller writes on the CBS News blog, “Everybody bought in, but nobody wants to claim ownership” of the sequester.
“Everybody's hands are dirty,” he writes. “But just days before a manufactured crisis sets fire to America's economic recovery, policymakers have fled the burning building, seemingly more inclined to point fingers than put out the blaze.”
Meanwhile, the dire warnings and blame-shifting continues.
Sunday afternoon, the White House announced that it would be releasing “new state-by-state reports on the devastating impact the sequester will have on jobs and middle class families across the country if Congressional Republicans fail to compromise to avert the sequester by March 1st.”