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Playing the sequester blame game

February 21, 2013|By Jon Healey
  • A screen grab from a Republican National Committee video released Thursday blaming President Obama for the across-the-board federal spending cuts due to start March 1.
A screen grab from a Republican National Committee video released Thursday… (Republican National Committee…)

There's been little sign of movement by Democrats or Republicans toward a deal this week on the "sequester," the $85 billion across-the-board cuts in discretionary programs due to begin March 1. President Obama and congressional Democrats have stuck with their argument that the spending cuts should be replaced at least in part by higher taxes and reduced farm subsidies. And Republicans have resolutely rejected anything that looks like a tax hike.

Nevertheless, the rhetoric about the sequester is intensifying, betraying how worried both sides are -- not about the cuts themselves, necessarily, but about the chance that the public would blame them for what ensues. The Republican National Committee, for example, released a video on YouTube on Thursday arguing that Obama was for the sequester before he was against it. Naturally, it took his comments about the sequester completely out of context, as Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski pointed out. Still, the operative Republican talking point is that the White House came up with this crazy idea, so if it actually happens, it's not the GOP's fault.

Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to focus the public's attention on the personnel and services that will be cut -- such as FBI and Border Patrol agents, air traffic controllers and Head Start slots -- and accusing Republicans of refusing to consider the Democrats' alternative. Although Obama has led the charge on this front, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released videos Thursday blasting 27 individual Republican House members for doing more to protect "millionaires" than the economy.

The committee's videos tout the Democrats' proposed replacement for the sequester without mentioning that it's built around another multibillion-dollar tax hike -- the second so far this year. Yet that's the make-or-break issue here. Neither side wants to furlough air traffic controllers or customs agents, but Republicans want to lock in more spending cuts, and that's one thing the sequester would deliver.

So if nothing changes and the sequester goes into effect, will the public blame Republicans for refusing to consider replacing the cuts with tax hikes on high-income Americans and oil and gas companies? Will they blame Democrats for failing to offer an alternative the GOP might possibly support? Will they blame Obama for coming up with the idea, thinking the prospect of a sequester was so horrible that it would help break the congressional logjam on a long-term plan to reduce the deficit?

Or will they look at Washington and see nothing but incompetence?

What do you think? Take our wildly unscientific poll, leave a comment below or do both!

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Follow Jon Healey on Twitter @jcahealey

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