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It is becoming clearer by the day how badly President Barack Obama misplayed his cards in August 2011 when he paid a political ransom in return for Republican legislators agreeing to increase the debt ceiling. The GOP leadership brought the country to the brink of default to get what they wanted and the president caved.
The resulting Budget Control Act of 2011 mandated that if Congress could not figure out a way to trim the deficit by $1.2 trillion, then cuts equaling that amount would take place automatically over a 10-year period, beginning this year. And rather than addressing the deficit challenge with surgical spending reductions and changes in tax policy, the automatic "sequestration" cuts would take place evenly across agencies and programs, cutting the necessary and the wasteful alike.
President Obama calculated this would put the problem off until after the election. It did. The administration also bet on a post-election change in attitude that would lead Republicans to compromise on a combination of taxes and spending reductions to avoid the draconian cuts. But they didn't budge, and why should they?
The Republican congressional leadership is getting what it wants, cuts in government spending, $85 billion this fiscal year, with the added luxury of saddling the president with the political fallout from the most unpopular of cuts. Take, for example, the current public outrage about flight delays caused by the furloughing of air traffic controllers to meet sequestration mandates. The furloughs and delays do not result from sequestration, say House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, they result from the administration's inability to cut waste, eliminate consultants and manage a budget.
Not only that, say Mr. Boehner and Mr. Cantor, it is the president playing politics - causing the flight delays to pressure Congress to back off the sequestration cuts.
Well, if the administration is playing politics, it is not playing well. As any mayor knows, the City Council may cut funding for garbage pickup, but taxpayers will blame the mayor when trash piles up on sidewalks. Likewise the anger of air travelers will focus on the president and his administration if they can't get around sequestration and fix it.
This is what President Obama's appeasement has wrought.