-- The portion of voters in the latest FOX News poll who said that automatic reductions to government spending were necessary because lawmakers were incapable of making cuts themselves.
President Obama folded his bluff this week, tacitly acknowledging that today’s “sequestration” deadline would not result in the collapse of civilization as we know it.
After weeks of depicting an America becoming a less cheery version of “The Road,” Team Obama now allows that the consequences, which they still say will be dire, will be gradual and won’t really begin at all for several weeks.
Once the administration told agencies that they could avoid the worst consequences of the automatic reductions to automatic increases in spending by implementing hiring freezes, the game was up.
The truth, now universally acknowledged in Washington, is that today is just the start of a new phase of negotiations concerning how much money the government will spend between now and the end of September, the close of the federal fiscal year.
The preceding weeks of scary scenarios, campaign events and blame gaming were really about what will happen in the six months between the end of March and the beginning of October. Will the government shut down? Will the lower spending levels set in the 2011 debt ceiling deal be preserved? Will taxes be raised again? Will the debt ceiling be lifted again?
And after that’s all settled, it will be just in time to start the fight for what happens after Oct. 1. And on and on and on until the fall of next year.
The president’s aim with all the scary stuff was to show the American people that the federal government was dangling by a thread and that without the full scheduled increase in funding the whole $3.6 trillion enterprise would begin to crumble.
The latest FOX News poll shows that while American voters believe that the cuts will be damaging, they still believe that automatic reductions are needed. This is because voters have reasonably concluded that their government is a total train wreck.
When a bureaucrat only too eager to show the disastrous consequences of the reductions emptied out a federal detention center for illegal immigrants before anything had even happened, it showed not only that the hype was just that but also that the taxpayers are not getting a very good return on their money.
When Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned that teacher layoffs had already begun – wait a minute, no they didn’t – he sent the same messages.
When Obama railed against Congress he certainly helped reinforce the notion that Republicans are the American version of Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads. But he also reinforced the more general notion that Washington is an island of nincompoops unable to do anything but bicker, blame and seek their own advantages.
And these are the people Obama is saying need not just the full increase to funding for the next seven months but more, more, more.
Obama is asking taxpayers to give more and for voters to put more of their trust in a government that he says is teetering on the brink of collapse and utterly unable to address even the small challenges. As Woody Allen would say: The government here is terrible, and the portions are too small.
Voters, Republican and Democrat, know that their government is inefficient, wasteful, sclerotic and dysfunctional. They know that bureaucracy and politics are the enemies of common sense. They remember the picture of the goofball sitting in the hot tub with the fruity drink and the gold chain. They have interacted with the government themselves.
The president believes he can heap blame, scorn and ridicule on Republicans for the next 18 months and then sweep the Roundheads out of power, thereby giving himself a Democratic Congress amenable to his call for “collective action” in the final two years of the term.
But he may have the train coupled up wrong.
If Obama keeps talking about what a bunch of poltroons politicians are and how the two-million person federal bureaucracy is such a catastrophe that it will crumble without continual increases in funding, voters may reasonably conclude that more government is a bad bet.
If the president and his allies had focused more on making government better, more effective and more efficient, voters might be more sympathetic. If he had focused on showing progress with his adversaries instead of just strafing them, voters might be more willing to believe that Washington could get its act together enough to be trusted with more money and more power.
But as it stands, the president’s plea is to ask taxpayers to shovel more money at something he says is a disaster.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“The Republicans ought to highlight every day all of these useless, obsolete or idiotic stuff happening in the federal government. Every year, Senator Coburn compiles a list of all this waste and stuff. It's all out there. What you do is an example a day every day and say to the administration, why didn't you cut "x," which is laughable, and instead you cut police or teachers?”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
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.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.