Published February 25, 2013
"There's an emerging consensus that it would be a difficult battle to have. I don't think we could force a shutdown."
-- Senate Democratic leadership aide talking to the Wall Street Journal about a GOP proposal to enact a continuing resolution funding the government that reflects lower spending levels that are part of sequestration.
It was quite appropriate that the first lady joined the festivities for Sunday’s Academy Awards.
It’s not just because Michelle Obama owes her continued residency in the White House in large part to the contributions and celebrity backers from the entertainment industry, but also because her husband’s administration is producing more dramas these days than Harvey Weinstein.
As much as President Obama complains about “cable news” and as often as he shuns the press, Team Obama understands how to fill the void of the 24-hour news cycle. By cooking up dramatic-sounding deadlines, cliffs and crises, the president keeps Americans on the edge of their seats hoping that somehow true disaster can be averted.
This helps the president stay in the news, look like a man of action and cast House Republicans in the role of villain. But the cliffs haven’t been so steep as we have been led to believe.
Take this week’s crisis: Sequestration. We are told every day that on Friday the automatic decreases to automatic increases in federal spending will swing into place, forcing massive disruptions in federal functions and risking recession.
But what will really happen on Friday? Not much of anything.
Regardless of what you think of the automatic reductions, the money that is causing all of the caterwauling in Washington doesn’t get slurped out in one deep draught. Instead, the “sequester” will begin a small, slow steady reduction in funds. The sequester sips.
When Obama talks about hundreds of thousands of jobs lost and more than a trillion dollars in cuts he’s assuming that the automatic decrease remains in place, unchanged, until 2023. Power Play readers know that a decade more of budget impasse is unlikely, given five election cycles. But it’s also true that the sequester is unlikely to remain as written for even the first year.
Plus, to make the reductions look as brutal as possible, the president and his agency heads are hyping up the kickoff in a bid to frighten voters into pressuring Republicans to nix the cuts. If Obama actually believed that the sequester would stand for a decade he wouldn’t be front-loading the drama. Obama knows this is a limited engagement, but he wants to make sure that he gets more of what he wants – higher taxes and higher spending – in the sequel.
The sequel to the sequester comes in the weeks ahead as Congress debates the soon to expire continuing resolution funding the government in the absence of a budget. The current measure, pushed forward in a pre-election punt – expires on March 27.
How much, how and where the government spends your money will be the topic of conversation until then. And unlike the sequester or the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the beginning of the year, this really is a hard deadline.
Recall that for all of the panic attendant to the across-the-board tax increases set to begin on January 1, the real deadline wasn’t until the end of this year since the taxes for 2013 aren’t owed until the spring of 2014. It was exciting to play the fiscal cliff stakes, but not as consequential as the president and the press made it out to be.
But by hyping the cliff Obama helped ratchet up pressure on Republicans to allow the first tax rate increase in nearly 20 years.
In reality, the cliffs behind and those still to come are all just one crisis that has been divided into multiple acts. We’ve been cliff jumping since the spring of 2011 and will be doing so at least until the spring of 2015 – a four year fiscal crisis, one disaster at a time.
The sequester will not stand as written beyond the end of March. It will either be replaced by something in the continuing resolution or the government will shut down, actually bringing the kind of disruptions that Team Obama has been warning of in recent days, but the status quo will only last for a few weeks.
Obama’s goal is to maximize the drama in each of these manufactured crises so that when the big moments come, voters are panicky and Republicans are already under fire.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.