• With: Kim Strassel, Jason Riley, Daniel Henninger, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Matt Kaminski

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," February 23, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report." President Obama turns up the heat on Republicans warning of dire consequences if those March 1st spending cuts kick in. John Boehner says the sequester wasn't his idea but should he try to stop it?

    Plus New York City's murder rate hits a 50-year low but the policy, many credit for that achievement, is once again under fire. Could stop and frisk soon be a thing of the past?

    And just in time for the Oscars, it's the return of the Hollywood black list. We'll take a closer look at the campaign against "Zero Dark Thirty."

    Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

    With just days to go President Obama turned up the heat on Republicans this week saying that they would be to blame if across-the-board spending cuts take effect on March 1st. Appearing on Tuesday with firefighters, police officers and other first responders, the president claimed the consequences of such cuts would be dire.


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: People will lose their jobs. It will jeopardize our military readiness. It will eviscerate job-creating investments, thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids.


    GIGOT: But in a Wall Street Journal op-ed House Speaker John Boehner shot back saying the sequester was the White House's idea in the first place and a product of President Obama's failed leadership.

    Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger. Political Diary editor Jason Riley and Washington columnist Kim Strassel.

    So, Kim, let's start with the merits first and the president's claims of catastrophe if those spending cuts kick in. Is that -- is that correct?

    KIMBERLEY STRASSEL, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, we don't exactly know. What we do know is the president has every incentive here to make it sound as always going to be absolutely the most dreadful thing.

    Look, the reality is, Paul, it's a 2.5 percent cut to the federal budget.

    GIGOT: Right.

    STRASSEL: $85 billion out of a $3.8 trillion budget. If you can't find that much to cut then there is a problem.

    GIGOT: Is there enough flexibility in the sequester to make a difference to these -- agency heads will be able to maneuver and prevent things like, Jason, cuts to air traffic control, for example?

    JASON RILEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, that's what Republicans would like to do and give the president some flexibility. The problem is Democrats who want the Armageddon narrative are opposed to --

    GIGOT: And why is that?

    RILEY: Well, they like this narrative. They want to pretend like --

    GIGOT: That any cuts at all in government are catastrophic?

    RILEY: That these are cuts are catastrophic so they don't want to give the president flexibility. But the fact of the matter is we are talking about 5 percent domestic spending, 7 percent in Defense. These are doable. And while --

    GIGOT: You say domestic spending. These are discretionary spending, because this isn't a cut in Social Security or in entitlements.

    RILEY: Right. No entitlement. Right.

    GIGOT: OK.

    RILEY: But this is -- this is doable. And the rhetorical lens that the president is going to present this as, you know, the four horsemen of the apocalypse coming, it's ridiculous.

    GIGOT: Kim, does your -- does your reporting suggest that Harry Reid has in fact explicitly rejected -- that's the Senate leader -- a request by the Republicans to be able to add more flexibility to the -- to the cuts?

    STRASSEL: Well, we don't know that in particular. But what we do know is that the White House, they had on official down in front of the Senate recently. They were asked about giving this -- being given this flexibility provision and they openly said, came back and said, we would reject any effort to actually lessen the pain of this sequester.

    And so the president here is getting himself into a situation where he's warning about all this doom and gloom. The Republicans are giving him a way out of this and they're increasingly looking to be rejecting that just so that they can continue to bring down the hammer.

    GIGOT: And the president, Dan, is insisting not just on other spending cuts alternatives, or even weakening the cuts, he's saying, look, I want a tax increase, too.

    What is that all about? I mean, we just had a huge tax increase that is -- that is already, according to the newspaper reports, hurting consumer spending. Why do we -- why does he want another one?

    DANIEL HENNINGER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: He wants that because it's part of the strategy that he has been running all along which is to make it virtually impossible for the Republicans to do business or sign up for it. He wants them to be in a rejectionist mode so then he can blame them for pushing the government into the sequester.

    Add one more thing, Paul. Flexibility. There's another word for flexibility, it's responsibility. And I do think the Republicans should push the continuing resolution that has this so-called flexibility. The president is in charge of the executive branch. Let him take the responsibility for deciding how these cuts should be administered which he has been dodging for three years.

    RILEY: I think, Paul, the president is feeling very confident now. His approval ratings around 50 percent. But it's 20 or so points higher than that of Republicans. He figured I --

    GIGOT: Only 20?

    RILEY: He figures, I beat them on the debt ceiling debate in 2011.

    HENNINGER: Right.

    RILEY: I beat them on the fiscal cliff. I can do it again. The polls show the public will be with me. Now whether that is well founded confidence, we'll find out but I think that is what is driving some of this. He feels like he can win this fight.

    GIGOT: But can you think it may be overconfidence on the part of the president? That this is different than those other two fights Jason mentioned. How so?