Something interesting happened this weekend in Washington. After weeks of the mainstream media acting as President Obama’s echo chamber when he blamed the impending sequester budget cuts as being solely the fault of the Republicans, an icon of the liberal press finally did what the rest of the capital’s journalists should have been doing all along. The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward has written an op-ed drawing on the research and reporting he compiled when writing his book The Price of Politics. He explains that not only was the sequester the brainchild of the White House and not the GOP, but that in asserting that any deal to avert the draconian cuts it will exact requires new tax increases, the president is making a new unreasonable demand that moves the goalposts of the negotiations. Doing that may be clever politics but it is, contrary to the rhetoric of the Democrats, anything but balanced.
Some in the media have treated the question of who deserves the blame for the sequester as irrelevant or, more to the point, a distraction from the president’s campaign that they support to pressure Republicans to fold and accept more tax increases. But, as Woodward (who supports the president’s liberal line about taxes) points out, determining the origin of the sequester is anything but trivial:
Why does this matter?
First, months of White House dissembling further eroded any semblance of trust between Obama and congressional Republicans. (The Republicans are by no means blameless and have had their own episodes of denial and bald-faced message management.)
Second, Lew testified during his confirmation hearing that the Republicans would not go along with new revenue in the portion of the deficit-reduction plan that became the sequester. Reinforcing Lew’s point, a senior White House official said Friday, “The sequester was an option we were forced to take because the Republicans would not do tax increases.”
In fact, the final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.
So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts. His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made.
What needs to be pointed out here is that Woodward isn’t just calling out the White House for their deceptions. The spin coming from the president and his minions is cynical and partisan in nature, but is to be expected. The real problem is the way the mainstream media has punted on its coverage of this vital issue and allowed the president’s disingenuous arguments to go virtually unchallenged.
Democrats keep telling us that the public blames Republicans for the sequester more than they do the president, and polls bear this out. But one of the main reasons that this is so is because the White House can depend on a largely complacent liberal press corps to let their spin be treated as historical fact. When Republicans claim that the president has not negotiated in good faith and has broken its word about taxes time and again, they are depicted as whiny complainers. But, as even a supporter of the president’s agenda like Woodward is compelled to note, the GOP’s assertions about the White House are fundamentally correct.
As I wrote last week, an integral factor in President Obama’s media mastery is based on more than the clever tactics and shameless manipulation that his White House handlers have employed. The liberal bias of so many of the working press has given the president the confidence to believe he can get away with just about anything in this debate and still be portrayed as an honest player in the Washington game.
Woodward’s fact check on the president’s sequester lies may not alter the balance of opinion on the subject. But it is the sort of thing that ought to worry the White House, since Woodward’s willingness to say the emperor has no clothes may encourage others to do the same. The rules may be different for Barack Obama, and there’s good reason to believe his charmed existence–in which he is never held accountable for any disaster or lie–may continue. But eventually even he may find himself subject to the laws of political gravity. It could be that by blithely assuming that the public will always back him against the Republicans, he is setting himself—and the country—up for a great fall as we head back to the brink on the budget.