Politicians know the game is up once “Saturday Night Live” mocks them and their policies. President Obama found himself in that unenviable position this weekend. He had mustered all his effort to dispatch Cabinet secretaries to stand before every available camera in sight to recite tales of the mayhem and horror that would follow in the wake of a minuscule across-the-board reduction in federal spending.
By the time sequestration kicked in on Friday, Americans enjoyed business as usual. Then NBC’s late-night comedy show opened on Saturday with actor Jay Pharoah mimicking the president at the podium of the White House press briefing room. The faux-president said he had to explain sequestration to Americans in “human terms” because “I really have no idea how money works or how budgets work.”
Actors portraying government employees explained how the “cuts” would affect the performance of their jobs. An air-traffic controller said she would have to watch a 20-second ad for Doritos before checking the radar screens. A border patrol agent said, “We’re going to have to let every 10th Mexican just run across the border.”
The satire worked because the public recognizes the runaway fear-mongering. Nonetheless, the president persisted Monday by saying his new nominee for the Office of Management and Budget would do everything to “blunt the impact of these cuts on businesses and middle-class families, but eventually a lot of people are going to feel some pain.”
He gave no policy alternative other than a vague hope of “working to reduce our deficit in a balanced way.” Mr. Obama didn’t mention that his budget office is already a month late in delivering the administration’s budget. White House spokesman Jay Carney on Friday blamed the delay on resources being used to handle sequestration.
The House is responding by setting up a vote this week on a continuing resolution to keep the government running through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The legislation will take into account the mandatory reductions, but it includes two defense appropriations bills that give the Pentagon more flexibility to protect essential programs.
Mr. Obama has resisted the Senate Republican offer to give the White House “transfer authority” that allows agencies and departments to determine cuts rather than use the across-the-board approach. Accepting such a bargain would undermine the goal of pinning blame on the GOP for any reductions in federal outlays that could affect everyday American life.
Nothing freaks out Washington like the government being told it can’t spend as much as it wants, but the public doesn’t share the panic. A Rasmussen poll released Monday shows that more voters think the cuts will have either a positive or no impact on their lives (44 percent) than think it will have a negative impact (39 percent).
These numbers, along with the mocking of a liberal television comedy, should embolden Republican leaders. They need to stick to their campaign promise to shrink the size of the federal government.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.