With just 10 days to go before brutal sequestration cuts kick in, President Obama has decided to use his bully pulpit, not just to frame the debate and show the way out of this latest manufactured crisis, but also to make his opponents look reckless and irresponsible. In this case, it meant appearing at a White House event, surrounded by first responders who will suffer if congressional Republicans continue to refuse to compromise.
The president had a fairly compelling pitch to present, which had the added benefit of being true: "[T]hese cuts are not smart. They are not fair. They will hurt our economy. They will add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls."
"[I]f Congress allows this meat-cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness; it will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research. It won't consider whether we're cutting some bloated program that has outlived its usefulness, or a vital service that Americans depend on every single day. It doesn't make those distinctions.
"Emergency responders like the ones who are here today -- their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded. Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced. FBI agents will be furloughed. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country. Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.
"And already, the threat of these cuts has forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf."
Obama added that he and his party remain open to a compromise, including changes to social-insurance programs like Medicare, but he's not open to a remedy that gives Republicans 100% of what they want. The president said, "That would be like Democrats saying we have to close our deficits without any spending cuts whatsoever. 'It's all taxes.' That's not the position Democrats have taken. That's certainly not the position I've taken."
Obama concluded with a challenge: "Republicans in Congress face a simple choice: Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investments in education and health care and national security and all the jobs that depend on them? Or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations? That's the choice."
As it turns out, GOP officials are aware of the choice, and for now, appear to have made a decision.
It's probably not the decision the White House is hoping for.
The Hill reports this morning, however, that Republicans say they're not worried about the political impact of the sequester. They tell the paper that they will be able to make the case to the public that the sequester was Obama's idea, meaning he'll take the blame for the damage it does.
The competing approaches are important. On the one hand, we see President Obama warning of dire consequences and pleading with lawmakers to consider a compromise solution to prevent real hardship. On the other, we see congressional Republicans focusing on how best to play the blame game.
For those who care about reality, the sequester really wasn't Obama's idea -- it was part of the ransom paid to Republicans when GOP lawmakers held the nation hostage in 2011, threatening to crash the economy and trash the full faith and credit of the United States. Republicans took credit for the sequester and they voted for the sequester.
But as a practical matter, it doesn't matter whose idea it was. There's a looming threat to the nation and it kicks in next week. One side is focused on resolving the manufactured crisis with a bipartisan compromise; the other side is focused on how to win a public-relations battle, instead of focusing on fixing the problem they helped create.
The odds of avoiding this self-inflicted wound, undermining the economy, the military, and the public's needs are, at least as of today, quite remote.