If anyone still thinks President Obama is serious about putting our fiscal house in order, Exhibits A and B prove he has been playing political games with this issue from the beginning.
Exhibit A: The White House high command saw the full sequestration budget battle not as an effort to curb out-of-control deficit spending that is driving the government into unfathomable debt but as a relentless, politically driven opportunity to bludgeon Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections.
Mr. Obama’s campaign-style events in recent weeks were parts of a carefully crafted effort in demagoguery to blame congressional Republicans for sequestration. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward, though, tracked the sequester debacle to the Oval Office by saying Mr. Obama was constantly “moving the goal posts” in his negotiations with Republicans by demanding higher taxes.
Every statement, speech, trip and decision this year was strategically engineered for its political impact on Republicans as part of a long-term plan for Democrats to regain control of the House and approve Mr. Obama’s remaining agenda and burnish his legacy during his last two years in office.
Exhibit B: There were exaggerated and downright false claims by the administration about the sequestration cuts — long before they were made — that smacked of political dirty tricks.
Soon after his election victory speech in November, Mr. Obama made two phone calls — one to Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the other to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who harbors hopes of winning back her post as speaker.
Mr. Obama concluded long ago that he would not be able to get anything accomplished in his second term if Republicans held on to the House. In order to save his presidency, he would have to focus much, if not most, of his energy this year and next on a virtual nonstop political assault against Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and other Republicans in the 2013-14 election cycle.
“The president understands that to get anything done, he needs a Democratic majority in the House,” Mr. Israel told The Washington Post last week. “To have a legacy in 2016, he will need a House majority in 2014, and that work has to start now.”
Immediately after delivering his high-sounding inaugural address, Mr. Obama plunged into the messy, parochial battle plans that will consume much of his political capital over the next two years.
He has committed himself to eight high-roller fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and many more are being added to the list. He has retooled his 2012 re-election organization into a full-time grass-roots campaign called Organizing for Action, dedicated to the recruitment and financing of House candidates.
He put his re-election campaign manager, Jim Messina, in charge of the House takeover drive to ensure it was directed from the White House. Mr. Messina met in early January with Mr. Israel, well before Mr. Obama took the oath of office, to plot campaign strategy, fundraising, grass-roots outreach and coordination of a White House-driven political offensive against Republicans.
Although Mr. Boehner is the House Republican leader, he maintains a network of friendships among Democrats and their advisers. In a January speech, he warned that Mr. Obama was plotting to “annihilate” the Republican Party.
Mr. Messina made it clear at the meeting that Mr. Obama would devote a great deal of time in his second term to the House takeover operation from beginning to end.
“Israel said Obama told him how focused he would be on winning a House majority for the Democrats,” many of whom complained that Mr. Obama didn’t do nearly enough in his first term to keep the House in Democratic hands, The Washington Post reported.
Mr. Obama has ambitious plans for his second term, including immigration reform, hiking the minimum wage, sweeping new gun controls and climate change laws, just for starters.
He knows that little if any of his agenda will become law unless Democrats take control of the House and Mrs. Pelosi becomes speaker.
When Mr. Obama’s voters went to the polls, no doubt many, if not most — especially tens of millions of unemployed or underemployed Americans — thought he would refocus his agenda on reviving jobs and the sluggish, lackluster economy.
By now, however, it has become painfully clear that he won’t be making the jobless economy a major focus of his second term. He will be playing political attack games on a new set of issues and campaigning full time to put Democrats in full control of Congress again.
Mr. Obama “would like nothing more than to have complete liberal control of Congress for his last two years in office,” says Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck. “Just look at what he’s doing now. He’s not even negotiating at this point. It’s purely political theater.”
For all intents and purposes, Mr. Obama has washed his hands of the economy and jobs, issues that a majority of Americans cite as their greatest concerns but have been the biggest failures of his presidency.
Instead, two headlines in The Post starkly reveal what the president’s plans are for this year and next: “Obama sees 2014 as key to legacy,” and “Obama to shift focus to different priorities,” followed by a secondary headline, “Amid fiscal stalemate, he turns to gun control, immigration changes.”
If you harbor any doubts about Mr. Obama’s game-playing tactics as he heads into the midterm election cycle, Exhibit B reveals how the president and his top advisers invented scare stories in their efforts to pin the sequestration cuts on congressional Republicans, or announced faux budget-cutting actions before the sequestration deadline.
Even before one dollar had been cut from any budget, the Obama administration announced that hundreds of illegal immigrants in detention facilities were let go to save money.
A typically ugly claim, apparently made up out of whole cloth, came from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Feb. 24, “There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall.”
The Post’s intrepid Fact Checker Glenn Kessler dug into this claim, which Mr. Duncan made three times, and found it was absolutely false. Mr. Duncan’s failing score for making things up: Four Pinocchios.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.