Spin Cycle

02.19.13

Obama Warns of Big Layoffs Unless GOP Caves

Trots out first responders to warn of draconian budget cuts

President Obama just played the police card.

He surrounded himself with first responders at the White House on Tuesday morning to dramatize what he says will be the impact of the automatic spending cuts set to take effect at month’s end.

Against this backdrop of blue, Obama said if the so-called sequestration isn’t stopped, first responders will lose their jobs, prosecutors will drop cases and let criminals go free, and teachers will be laid off

“This is not an abstraction,” the president said.

Here’s the problem, though: The cuts are coming in 10 days. And Congress is on vacation.

By waiting until the eleventh hour—and just back from a golfing weekend himself—the president has left very little time to avert this latest “manufactured crisis,” as he put it.

That approach suggests to me that he is trying to shift blame to the Republicans if the cutbacks--originally proposed by Obama as so draconian that the Hill would be forced to avoid them—take effect.

The Republican House could be pressured into another temporary delay, but at some point the two sides have to agree on an actual budget.

The speech began as an amalgam of scare tactics and bipartisan appeal. “These cuts are not smart, they are not fair, they will hurt our economy,” Obama said. This was not a game; “people will lose their jobs” and “there is a smarter way to do this.”

The president even said he is “willing to cut more spending that we don’t need.”

Then he pivoted to an attack on the other party. Is it possible, he asked, that rather than “close a single tax loophole for the wealthiest Americans,” they would “rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk”?

Here’s what Obama left out: He already got his tax hike on the wealthy in the New Year’s Eve compromise. This next round was supposed to be devoted to spending cuts. So Republicans are understandably concerned that the president is again pushing for more revenue (using phrases like tax loopholes and tax reform).

It’s also true that the president and his party haven’t put out a detailed list of budget cuts. When it comes to inflicting pain, no one wants to go first.

Obama has the biggest megaphone. It is hard for John Boehner to compete in this debate. But that doesn’t mean the cutbacks won’t hit on March 1 if Republicans decide the only way to slash government spending is to swallow this poison pill.