by Mark Curtis, ABC6 Chief Political Reporter
Rhode Island) – With all the talk
about sequestration and automatic budget cuts in the news, I thought I would
take you behind the scenes today for some perspective on political strategy.
While most of my career has been on the outside, covering politics as a
reporter, I did spend enough time on the inside of the political process to
gain valuable insight into how political tacticians operate. The things I am
about to share I neither endorse, nor condemn. I am simply trying to break down
and reveal the behind the scenes strategy.
"Where's the Urgency?"- There was no sense of panic in Washington Friday and
that should be a big clue (nor was there panic on Wall Street). Yes the President
met with Congressional leaders, but that was more "show" for the press and
public. Truth be told, both sides are not sure where this issue will swing on
public opinion (because the full impact – or lack of impact from the cuts – is
not really known yet). Both sides really want to wait and see, and perhaps take
credit, or affix blame, weeks or months from now.
"The ‘Trickle-Down' Effect" – Many of the spending cuts are
gradual, and many are quite small. Because
we are talking employee furloughs and not layoffs, the impact is more gradual
and less visual. Take defense spending for example. Telling employees they will
face 22 furlough days in the next year, means an average of a nine percent pay
cut. They'll work a lot of four-day weeks, but they are still working, albeit
with a pay cut. Now, you could have had the same net gain, by simply laying off
nine percent of the defense workforce indefinitely. Can you image the TV images
with that many people standing outside the unemployment office Monday morning?
It would have caused a firestorm. Instead, there are no such photo ops for the
press. Believe me; people in politics strategize this way, as cynical as that
"No Fingerprints" – This may be a win-win for both parties.
It isn't like there was a vote Thursday night in the House and Senate that set
the budget cuts in motion first thing Friday morning. Instead, the automatic
sequester cuts were part of a deal last year between President Obama and
Congressional leaders. Lots of people who voted on this are no longer even in
Congress. There is no instant list people can pull up to affix credit or blame
(although you could Google it). This is very much like the BRAC process (the
Base Realignment and Closure Commissions), which made the decisions on which military
bases to close in the 1980s and 90s, instead of having Congress do it. The
sequester process limits the Congressional fingerprints (and therefore the
blame). The cuts were automatic and not the result of a recent, direct vote.
These kinds of legislative tricks are why incumbency is still so powerful. Accountability,
(i.e. blame), can be "managed."
"The Gamble" – Republicans have wanted significant spending
cuts, but with no tax increases. They got what they wanted in the short term.
Democrats want to be able to force the hand of Republicans, and get some of
those revenue increases, but that's more of a long term strategy. If the
economy tanks and goes back into recession in the next six months, Republicans
lose and the consequences for the mid-term elections could be dire. If the
impact of sequester on the national economy is imperceptible, Democrats lose
and the pressure for more spending cuts will become a Congressional campaign
mantra for Republicans. Right now, control of the U.S. Senate in 2014 is up for
grabs. And even though President Obama will not face voters again, his legacy
is on the line. He doesn't want to leave the White House with the economy even
worse than it was when he arrived. There are risks all around.
"Defending Defense" – Republicans are probably risking the
most. They hold a public perception of being stronger on national defense, so
to agree to cuts across the board – including defense – seems in conflict. But
what they are really cutting - through furloughs - is people, and on a rotating
basis. They aren't cutting missiles or battleships or VA benefits. If it works,
Republicans can claim there are no sacred cows from budget cuts. On the
downside, the "ripple effect" on the economy is of big concern. Some military
communities are a "one-horse" town when it comes to the economy. They have the
military, but no other real industry. If you cut nine percent of the military
income, you've also cut nine percent of spending power at local restaurants,
car dealerships and stores. The rolling momentum of an economic downtown could
start very slow, but could have significant critical mass a year from now.
Again, it's a calculated risk.
"At the Movies!" – Okay, enough talk on sequester! I had to
watch "Argo" this weekend after it won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It reminded
me a lot of "Apollo 13" with Hollywood
taking a good swing at a real life, gripping and dramatic event. In an era of
government cynicism, I found both movies demonstrated the "can do" attitude
that this nation (and its government) can actually accomplish good things in
the face of adversity. So, I liked "Argo" (especially the roles played by John
Goodman and Alan Arkin), but I still think "Lincoln" should have won Best Picture!
As always, share your thoughts, questions and opinions by
clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.
Also, if you wish to contribute the making of the film,
"Amazing Ops: Siege at Benghazi,"
then click on this link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/historivision/amazing-ops-siege-at-benghazi.
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