The biggest story this weekend concerning the nation’s financial condition and especially the sequester is the prevarication of the president. The other day the president made a speech wherein he bashed the Republicans for creating the frightening situation of the sequester. The government would shut down because of the disaster created by Republicans in Congress.

What did the president say, again?

Now, if 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.

How terrifying is the sequester? According to the WSJ, we are talking about 2.4% of the budget. What’s that, again?

$85 billion? That sounds like a lot of money. How does this compare with the size of the government’s budget? The government spent $3.538 trillion in the fiscal year that ended in September 2012. So $85 billion is 2.4% of the federal budget. What’s unusual about the sequester, though, is that some of the largest programs in the federal budget are exempt. That means the cuts are concentrated on a smaller pool of government programs. Depending on the agency, cuts are going to be in the ballpark of 5% and 13%, according to various estimates from government officials.

As George Will says ,

Batten down the hatches — the sequester will cut $85?billion from this year’s $3.6?trillion budget! Or: Head for the storm cellar — spending will be cut 2.3?percent! Or: Washington chain-saw massacre — we must scrape by on 97.7?percent of current spending! Or: Chaos is coming because the sequester will cut a sum $25?billion larger than was just shoveled out the door (supposedly, but not actually) for victims of Hurricane Sandy! Or: Heaven forfend, the sequester will cut 47?percent as much as was spent on the AIG bailout! Or: Famine, pestilence and locusts will come when the sequester causes federal spending over 10 years to plummet from $46?trillion all the way down to $44.8?trillion! Or: Grass will grow in the streets of America’s cities if the domestic agencies whose budgets have increased 17 percent under President Obama must endure a 5?percent cut!

Hmmmm. So our president is exaggerating about the extent of the sequester and suggesting in that speech that it is all Congress’s fault? Also in the WSJ, Speaker Boehner reminded us about the summer of 2011 and The Budget Control Act.

The plan called for immediate caps on discretionary spending (to save $917 billion) and the creation of a special House-Senate “super committee” to find an additional $1.2 trillion in savings. The deal also included a simple but powerful mechanism to ensure that the committee met its deficit-reduction target: If it didn’t, the debt limit would not be increased again in a few months.

But President Obama was determined not to face another debt-limit increase before his re-election campaign. Having just blown up one deal, the president scuttled this bipartisan, bicameral agreement. His solution? A sequester.

With the debt limit set to be hit in a matter of hours, Republicans and Democrats in Congress reluctantly accepted the president’s demand for the sequester, and a revised version of the Budget Control Act was passed on a bipartisan basis.

Who is telling the truth? Bob Woodward of the Washington Post says,

The president and Lew had this wrong. My extensive reporting for my book “The Price of Politics” shows that the automatic spending cuts were initiated by the White House and were the brainchild of Lew and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors — probably the foremost experts on budget issues in the senior ranks of the federal government.

Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved.

Tell me I am wrong, but my memory of the news about the 2011 budget talks was that the sequester was proposed by the White House because they thought the new Republican Congress would never agree to major defense cuts. But they did though neither side seemed to think we would get to this point where cuts actually happen. Guess what? Who wants the blame? Will it matter? The cuts do not touch the real spending problems nor do they amount to enough to do real good. This begins to sound like much ado about nothing, but if the president is willing to lie about all of this, then surely there must be something here we are missing.

Articles by Kate Pitrone

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