The president made some phone calls today from Air Force One while he was headed to Hawai’i for an economic conference. From there, he continues on to China and he won’t be back until a mere three days before the super committee hits its deadline for producing a deficit reduction package.
President Obama called the Democratic and Republican chairmen of Congress’s special deficit reduction supercommittee Friday and urged them to reach a deal, as the panel’s deadline for agreeing on a strategy to slash the nation’s debt rapidly approaches.
In separate phone calls, Obama urged Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) to find a way to steer the 12-member bipartisan panel to an agreement, the White House said.
Now, the key here is that the president had a special message he wanted to deliver. If the super committee doesn’t produce a package, then there will be automatic cuts to both the Pentagon’s budget and to the payments received by Medicare providers.
But he also carried another message: Congress should not undo the painful consequences for failing to reach a deal that were agreed to when the supercommittee was created in the August debt deal.
According to that agreement, if the committee of six senators and six representatives deadlocks, budgets will be cut automatically by $1.2 trillion over the next decade.
Half of those cuts would come from the Pentagon, a prospect daunting enough that leading lawmakers have suggested the cuts should be repealed.
But the so-called sequester could not be undone without a sign-off from Obama, and he made clear Friday that he would not agree.
“The sequester was agreed to by both parties to ensure there was a meaningful enforcement mechanism to force a result from the Committee,” the White House said in a statement. “Congress must not shirk its responsibilities. The American people deserve to have their leaders come together and make the tough choices necessary to live within our means, just as American families do every day in these tough economic times.”
There is a remote possibility that Congress could be so spooked by these cuts to our defense budget that they would override the president’s veto. After all, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Secretary have testified that such large cuts would put the country at risk by undermining our national security. But the president’s veto-promise should focus people’s minds. There are a lot of Republicans who would have a hard very time defending an attack from their right that they’re soft and irresponsible on defense. The same kind of attack would be leveled at the president if these cuts go into effect, but he will argue that he’s willing to fix it the moment the Republicans are willing to let the 1% pay their fair share in taxes.
So, the president is now bringing the strongest lobbying group in Washington, the Pentagon, down on the rank-and-file Republicans. I imagine that a lot of Medicare providers are giving Republicans an earful, too.
They’ve been out-positioned. Yet, I don’t think they’re capable of self-preservation. I didn’t see it in 2006 or 2008, and I’ve seen scant signs of it this year. These folks like to sail straight into danger and then go down with the ship.