I do not know about you, but to me this sequestration imbroglio is getting interesting. Last week I wrote of my surprise that a basic untruth was being repeated over and over again by the White House, to wit, that the Republicans were responsible for the monstrosity of sequestration. I wrote that as I recalled it, sequestration was an idea introduced by the White House to coax the Republicans and the Democrats into a deal in the summer of 2011 to raise the ceiling on the national debt. Remember that deal? Another thing: There would be no tax increase. President Obama himself endorsed the 2011 idea of sequestration before claiming in his third debate with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that “The sequester is not something that I proposed.” He went on, “It is something that the Congress proposed.” Really?
Most news stories that I have read recently laid sequestration to the White House as part of the 2011 debt-ceiling deal. Then Bob Woodward weighed in and made it obvious. He had written a book about the deal, and if he remained silent, he would have appeared to have lied in his book. Said Mr. Woodward, “My extensive reporting for my book, ‘The Price of Politics,’ shows the automatic spending cuts were initiated by the White House and were the brainchild of [Jack] Lew [at the time White House chief of staff and now secretary of the Treasury] and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors. Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.”
He called this effort to blame sequestration on the Republicans “partisan message management.” To me, it is a blatant lie. After all, practically everyone who has written about the debt-ceiling deal and now sequestration knows it is a lie or at least a deceit.
As the inimitable James Taranto has painstakingly chronicled in The Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web Today,” all hell broke out after Mr. Woodward’s statement. Jay Carney, the president’s press secretary, tweeted that Mr. Woodward was “willfully wrong.” Apparently, the press secretary does not know that Mr. Woodward already had deposited his findings in a book whose veracity has heretofore not been questioned. Mr. Obama’s political aide, David Plouffe, got personal, alluding to Mr. Woodward’s age. Mr. Woodward is nearing 70, though the issue is not his age but the integrity of his reporting and, by the way, Mr. Plouffe is no paragon of virility. Then White House economic adviser Gene Sperling exchanged barbs with Mr. Woodward.
The only real question is, “What did Mr. Woodward say in his book?” Was it accurate then? It appears that what he said was accurate. The president and the rest of his White House staff have been lying about sequestration for months. Finally, on “Meet the Press,” Mr. Sperling acknowledged as much when he said after much equivocation that “we put forth the design of” sequestration. Why did he not say that in the first place?
Things are going to get more interesting. For months, the president has been talking as though sequestration has to be very painful and very ugly. Now the government is closing the White House for tours owing to sequestration. There will be other showy demonstrations of these painful cuts. The cuts, however, need not be so painful in a $3.8 trillion budget.
The greater problem is that practically everything the president says has to be verified. He seems, as Mr. Woodward says, to forever engage in “partisan message management.” Soon the country will catch on. There is no dealing with a partisan message manager.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of The American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is the author most recently of “The Death of Liberalism” (Thomas Nelson, 2012).
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