One of the most puzzling answers that President Obama gave in the third presidential debate concerned the subject of sequestration—the process that will result in across-the-board cuts to spending of $1.2 trillion starting in January, with half that amount being cut from the defense budget. When the subject came up, Obama said, “First of all, the sequester is not something that I’ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”
As it happens, neither part of that short statement is strictly factual. Regarding the president’s claim that he did not propose sequestration—on this score he is flatly contradicted by Bob Woodward who wrote in his recent book, The Price of Politics, that sequestration originated in the White House and was sold to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by budget director Jack Lew and legislative director Rob Nabors. Woodward now says: “What the president said is not correct. He’s mistaken. And it’s refuted by the people who work for him.”
As for the second part of Obama’s statement—that sequestration will not happen—this claim was greeted with befuddlement on Capitol Hill since lawmakers are nowhere close to a deal to stop sequestration and time is running out. The White House, it should be noted, has been entirely AWOL in this effort. What does Obama know that everyone else in Washington doesn’t? Nothing, it turns out. For immediately after the debate White House aides rushed to walk back the president’s remarks, saying, as David Plouffe did, that “everyone in Washington agrees that sequester ‘should not happen.’” From “will not” to “should not” is a big change—and one that confirms that there is a very real danger that sequestration will happen.
If that were to happen, Congress, including Republicans who voted for the budget deal last summer, will certainly be complicit in the outcome, but Obama will not be able to escape his share of the blame for cuts that his own defense secretary has said would be “devastating.”