(NBC NEWS) -- As head of the executive branch, and as the man who dominates media
coverage, President Barack Obama has a strong and unique advantage over
his Republican foes: he's got the power to control both the practical
details and the theatrics of the ongoing sequestration debate.
He can design the spectacle in a way that could inflict political
embarrassment and damage on Republicans, with the goal being to pressure
them to agree to another round of tax increases.
Those hikes would be part of a deal to avert the spending cuts
mandated by the Budget Control Act, which Congress passed and Obama
signed into law in 2011 as part an agreement to raise the government's
As part of that sequestration plan, $1.2 trillion in federal spending
will be cut over 10 years, totaling $44 billion for the period
beginning March 1 and ending in October.
How that amount will be cut from federal spending this fiscal year is
both a question of practical governance -- which workers will be
furloughed and for how long -- and a matter of political spectacle --
how the president and his allies use those furloughs, canceled Navy
deployments, or other actions to shape the American people's views of
the spending cuts.
Obama implied Tuesday that Americans' physical safety would be in
jeopardy if the spending reductions occur: "Federal prosecutors will
have to close cases and let criminals go."
And on Wednesday, Obama spokesman Jay Carney cited another potential
danger of the spending cuts: more illegal immigrants slipping into the
United States. Americans, Carney said, who "understandably worry about
our border being protected," would "see a reduction in the Border Patrol
because the sequester goes into effect."
President Barack Obama voices harsh words toward Republican lawmakers Tuesday while speaking about looming budget cuts.
Even if they aren't endangered by a freed criminal or an illegal
immigrant, Americans may be delayed on their next trip: "Air traffic
controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more
delays at airports across the country," Obama predicted Tuesday.
Secretary Leon Panetta has said for more than a year that defense
spending reductions would impair the readiness of U.S. forces. Last week
Admiral Mark Ferguson, vice chief of naval operations, supplied some
specifics for the Senate Armed Services Committee: "We (will) shut down
four air wings on March 1. After 90 days, those pilots lose their
certification, and now it takes six to nine months to retrain them at a
much higher cost."
He also said the Navy would need to cancel
deployments, defer maintenance on ships and aircraft, and suspend most
non-deployed operations, such as training.
But at least one federal agency said it would not furlough its workers.
Barack Obama speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, joined
by emergency responders on February 19, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Dyer, Chief Financial Officer of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission --
which licenses and inspects the nation's 104 nuclear power plants --
said Thursday, "The NRC has reviewed its budget in light of the
sequestration and we will continue to accomplish our core safety and
security mission. The NRC's strategy is to minimize the impact of the
sequestration on the agency's ability to successfully accomplish its
critical safety and security mission activities for existing licensees.
The NRC does not plan to furlough any employees and we are developing a
list of impacts to specific contracts should a sequestration occur."
Jeffrey Zients, the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and
Budget, indicated in a memo last month, furloughs of Border Patrol
agents or other federal workers are not the only option if the spending
Federal agency heads should, Zients said, "identify
the most appropriate means to reduce civilian workforce costs" with
steps that include not only furloughs but hiring freezes, layoffs of
temporary employees and early retirement incentives.
In his battle
to convince the American people to pressure Congress to again postpone
the cuts, Obama might have more leverage if the law didn't exempt most
Americans who receive benefit payments from the federal government, for
example, the 55 million who get Social Security payments.
the president can focus his attention on House Republicans in swing
districts and make sure that their voters know the federal facilities in
that district might be closed. But as political analyst Charlie Cook
noted this week, there are few swing districts left.
point, the Cook Political Report lists only one House Republican, Rep.
Gary Miller of California, as facing a toss-up race in 2014.
members of Congress and their constituents wait to see what effects the
cuts might have, some Republicans are taking steps to show that they're
making their own sacrifices in the cause of deficit reduction. Rep. Mick
Mulvaney, R-S.C., announced Thursday that he has returned more than
$160,000 from his office account.
In an interview Thursday,
Mulvaney said there are four major federal facilities in his district as
well as an Army Reserve base. Shaw Air Force Base, one of the largest
Air Force bases on the East Coast, is in his district.
with his constituents, Mulvaney said, "What I've heard about is
businesses in the area around the base – the town of Sumter, the county
of Sumter, the restaurants down there, the car dealerships. Nothing
specifically directed toward furloughs of civilian employees (of the
Defense Department) but there is a concern about the impact" on the
But on the other hand, he said, "I just did a town
hall meeting the other night in my largest city. We took
three-and-a-half hours of questions and I did not get a single question
about the sequester's impact."
As for Obama controlling the way in which the spending cuts will hit,
Mulvaney said, "I think the president gets to do his job. As much as I
don't like the outcome of the election, the American people wanted this
gentleman to be the chief executive and if he wants to close this
particular (national) park and not that one, I think that's his
obligation and his right by virtue of his office."
He added, "Is
it politically disadvantageous (to Republicans to have Obama and his
aides controlling how the cuts hit)? Probably -- but we've got bigger
political disadvantages right now than him closing one national park
instead of another."
House Republicans argue that they have
already passed alternative spending cut bills to avoid the sequester,
but Carney told reporters Wednesday that Obama thinks "we ought to
continue seeking and striving for completion of the so-called grand
bargain" in which Republicans would agree to more tax increases and
Obama would agree to reductions in the growth rate of Medicare and other
While that "grand bargain" was being pursued,
Carney suggested, Congress should again delay the spending cuts. And he
indicated that Obama views the Republican vows to not agree to another
tax increase as mere bluff.
"We hear these declarative statements
from Capitol Hill and also from the press about what can and cannot
pass," he said. "We heard them last year about how revenue would never
be allowed" and that Republicans "would never allow tax rates to go up."
yet in the end, Carney said, Republicans caved in and voted for a $700
billion tax increase as part of the year-end fiscal cliff accord. He
implied Republicans would fold again this year as they did last year.
Mulvaney disagrees: "I think the president has probably gotten all the tax increases he's going to get."
Friday, May 24 2013 5:41 PM EDT2013-05-24 21:41:32 GMT
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