Feb. 8, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Has Obama Given Away His Sequester Leverage?

FAA fix raises Democratic eyebrows, prompts questions about White House strategy

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Congressional Democrats are questioning the wisdom of the White House and how the president is dealing with the fallout from the sequester cuts. Many feel that Obama is focusing too much on outreach to Republicans.

The Obama administration’s strategy for replacing the sequester has always been to rely on public pressure when the automatic spending cuts start to sting.

But with the White House’s recent willingness to create special workarounds for programs such as the Federal Aviation Administration and meat inspectors, many Democrats fear the president is giving away all his leverage on the issue.

Democrats are frustrated that the White House still seems to think Republicans are going to come to the table and reverse the sequester. But from the 2011 supercommittee to refusing to go over the fiscal cliff on New Year’s Eve 2012 to last week’s air-traffic-control furlough fix, the administration has caved on every pressure point it designed.

Instead of taking a political risk and keeping pressure on Republicans, White House officials are banking that a series of dinners with GOP senators will foster enough good will to produce legislation.

“The easier, smarter way to do it is to eliminate the sequester and replace it with good policy, balanced, fair, sensible policy, including smart cuts, including smart entitlement reforms, including tax reform that generates revenue that can be applied to deficit reduction,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday in response to a question about the FAA bill, which will allow the agency to move more than $250 million in funds to prevent the air-traffic-controller furloughs that resulted in flight delays across the country.

Of course, Carney has been saying pretty much the same thing in most of his news briefings since November.

“The president hopes that through his conversations with Republican lawmakers, that we can find some common ground here to — to do it in this way, that eliminates the sequester and helps our economy,” Carney said.

To be sure, the GOP has been a full partner in the implementation of the across-the-board spending cuts that constitute an austerity policy. It was Republicans’ unprecedented insistence in 2011 that the nation’s borrowing capacity not be extended without commensurate cuts that bred the sequester in the first place. As Carney said Monday, “Republicans chose to embrace the sequester.”

The White House has attempted to make a sustained effort in its charm offensive and has followed up dinners with lawmakers by dispatching top officials to Capitol Hill to address questions that cropped up at those meals.

Congressional Democrats are frustrated. They still feel burned from the fiscal-cliff negotiations and largely believe that the current situation came from the White House’s refusal to go over the fiscal cliff.

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