The sequester is only four days old and it has already done untold damage — not to teachers, air traffic controllers, or the military, mind you, but to President Obama’s credibility.
Obama has been caught in one misstatement after another about the sequester — from lying to Americans about its origins to exaggerating its impact. Obama is fast becoming the president who cried “Sequester!” And the price he pays for his exaggerations will be lasting.
The first untruth came on October 22, 2012, during Obama’s final debate with Mitt Romney, when Obama declared, “The sequester is not something that I’ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed.” When everyone from Bob Woodward to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Max Baucus came out and said it was indeed the president’s idea, White House spokesman Jay Carney was finally forced to admit that “the sequester was one of the ideas put forward, yes, by the president’s team.”
Then President Obama began issuing apocalyptic warnings of the plagues and pestilence that would soon descend upon the land if the sequester took effect: “Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced. FBI agents will be furloughed. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country. Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.”
His claims were so obviously overwrought that, when the sequester finally happened, Obama backtracked, declaring, “This is not going to be [an] apocalypse, as some people have said.” Some people have said? Not some people, Mr. President. You and your senior officials.
It was your secretary of education, Arne Duncan, who said last week that there are “literally now teachers who are getting pink slips” because of the sequester. But it turned out there are no pink slips going out. The charge was just flat untrue. Asked where Duncan got the information, his spokesman said it was from “an unspecified call he was on with unnamed persons.” Seriously?
It was your department of homeland security that announced that hundreds of illegal aliens facing deportation had been released from immigration jails due to the sequester. There is no way the sequester required letting those folks go. It costs about $122 per day to keep an illegal immigrant facing deportation jailed.
It was your secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, who warned in a Feb. 1 letter that 70,000 students would see their Head Start program shut down — only to have her spokesman walk back the claim, telling POLITICO last week the number “should not be taken literally and serves as an estimate based on ‘historic funding levels.’”
It was you, Mr. President, who declared at a press conference just one day before the sequester took effect that, “starting tomorrow, everybody here, cleaning the floors at the Capitol, they’re going to have less pay. The janitors, the security guards. They just got a pay cut… That’s real.” Except it’s not. The Capitol superintendent sent out an email to his alarmed staff reassuring them Obama’s statement was “NOT true.” The Senate Sergeant-at-Arms declared, “None of my employees will have their pay cut nor will they face furloughs” and that the Capitol police “will face neither pay cuts nor furloughs; they are standing tall through sequestration and all.”
The administration’s claims that the sequester was somebody else’s idea — and its warnings of impending disaster — are either highly exaggerated or made up from whole cloth. Yes, the sequester needs to be fixed — not because the cuts are too deep, but because they slash both critical programs (like national defense) and wasteful ones without discrimination. As I have pointed out here and here, those problems are fixable.
What may not be fixable is the damage Obama has done to his reputation with his exaggerated claims of imminent doom. When you cry wolf, and people figure it out, they don’t take your cries seriously any more. The next time Obama warns us of a coming disaster, Americans will be forgiven for thinking: “Remember what he said about the sequester?”