President Obama’s Ping-Ponging on Sequestration

President Barack Obama has become a big foe of the sequestration agreement between Republicans and Democrats some 18 months ago. Obama is warning of catastrophic cuts in spending that will cost many jobs, cut paychecks and endanger the public safety. This is a remarkable turn-about, because the White House is where the sequestration idea was hatched; although it is not entirely accurate to say “hatched,” because someone in the White House suggested resurrecting a process that was used in the mid-1980s to mandate spending reductions. But the origination point of the current sequestration fracas is not the crucial factor in Obama’s turn-about: about 15 months ago, Obama was an ardent supporter of sequestration.

In November 2011, President Obama said he was going to hold Republican lawmakers to all of the terms of the sequestration agreement and, in his “no doubt about it” voice, he vowed to veto any bill that emasculated sequestration. The first clear sign that Obama was souring on sequestration was when his newly confirmed defense secretary, Leon Panetta, told congressional committees that the military spending cuts in sequestration would make it very difficult for the Department of Defense to carry out its missions.

Panetta has become more alarmist about the impact of military spending cuts, as in his last appearance before a congressional committee, he said the proposed cut would be “disastrous.” A reduction of $600 billion over ten years is hardly “disastrous,” as the Pentagon alone is projected to spend just under $6.5 trillion, more than ten times more, over ten years.

Even the discretionary domestic spending cuts are not as draconian as President Obama is protraying them: when reporter Jonathan Karl asked Ray Lahood why it would not be possible to find an expected $1 billion in savings in his Department of Transportation budget of about $72 billion, Lahood’s only comeback was that since we are deep into FY 2013, spending priorities are set and it is difficult to change them.

Since President Obama is now proposing smaller spending cuts to get Congress and the nation trough a March 1 sequestration deadline, it should have been incumbent on him to have proposed a package of smaller spending cuts well before the onrushing deadline.

A Final Note: I am now reading a book entitled State vs. Defense by Stephen Glain (Crown Publishers, 2011). Glain points out that when prescient analysts were predicting the breakup of the Soviet Union years before it took place, they reasoned that the Soviet Union was devoting too much of its resources to a military buildup and to supporting an empire of nation states that were economic basket cases. The United States risks the same fate, due to its highly militarized society and the need to support an empire of overseas military bases. Glain makes the further point that the Department of Defense has far more influence over foreign policy than does the Department of State; furthermore, U.S. military overseas commanders serve as proconsuls, with vast decision-making powers.

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