Mashed Potato Bulletin

A journal grappling with the mish-mash of American politics

Brian Carter

Brian Carter
Northern, California, USA
October 23
My professional and academic background is fairly broad including a Bachelor's in Cultural Anthropology, a Master's in Environmental Science along with a hefty injection of world history in the mix. Professionally, my experience is in public health and environmental health where I have been lucky enough to work with people from varied backgrounds and cultures. I started the Mashed Potato Bulletin to explore answers to questions not being asked and to insert, hopefully, a broader perspective into the current conversation. -----------------------------------


Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 25, 2013 2:04PM

The Sequester Blame Game Comes to A Head

Rate: 5 Flag

    A not entirely new development in the sequester blame game reemerged this weekend in the form of Bob Woodward putting a damper on the Democrats' Speaker Boehner sequestration powerpoint, trump card. This not wholly unexpected wrinkle shifts the sequester's inception back on the White House.

     Woodward, his book The Price of Politics in hand and armed with his extensive access to the administration's inner workings, trounced the President's assertions that it was Congress, not the White House, who initiated the sequester. According to the award winning journalist, during the debt ceiling battle of 2011 it was Jack Lew,White House Budget Director, and White House national economic council director Gene Sperling, who first broached the idea for an automatic trigger or sequester. The idea was meant as a countermeasure to the unyielding, no tax, Tea Party freshmen who were blocking the rise of the debt ceiling if their demands for cuts were not met. The strategy basis was set upon a anticipated premise that huge cuts in defense spending would never see the light of day. White House negotiators predicted the threat of such significant cuts alone would prove too much for Republicans to bear and force them to negotiate for a balanced solution. Obama signed off on this tactic.

      There. Cut and dry. John Boehner and congressional Republicans were right after all, Obama owns the sequestration. If that was the full scope of the events then, yes, that would be that. But as with many things in government nothing is as simple as all that and when the breadth of entire situation enters into the assessment responsibility begins to shift back again.   

     After the 2010 midterm “shellacking”, which left a host of new Tea Party freshmen chomping at the bit for a fiscal battle with Democrats, raising the debt ceiling built into a massive political battle, the first of numerous manufactured crises. It came to a head the summer of 2011. House Republicans drew a line in the sand. There would be no increase in the debt ceiling unless huge spending cuts were made, even if that left the nation in default. For months negotiators met. They even reached a grand bargain which eventually failed in the House due to tax increases.

     Amidst the frustrations a need for something to compel Congress to act upon some manner of viable budget plan. A deal so unpalatable to both sides was then created. It was based on the belief neither side would allow this trigger pulled due to the catastrophic nature of the consequences. In order to garner approval to raise the debt ceiling, normally a routine act, and keep the country out of default, the sequester was presented and passed both houses but was never intended to actually go into effect.  

     It was passed In the House with the support of 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats. The Senate passed the bill with 28 Republicans and 45 Democrats voting for it. Unfortunately the effort was too little, too late. The deal still hurt the country, resulting in Standard & Poor's stripping the United States of its coveted AAA credit rating. The rating agency's decision was due in large part to the congressional gridlock witnessed by so many. The battle's repercussions were felt across the economy culminating in very real fears the US was headed for a double-dip recession.    

     Despite the blame the GOP now place on the President's shoulders, they supported the sequester in 2011 as is evident in Speaker Boehner's own powerpoint presentation entitled, Two-Step Approach to Hold President Obama Accountable. It was seen as an effective tool to win the massive spending cuts they demanded. This was the spending they viewed as out of control even though they, themselves, allowed pay-as-you-go legislation, or PayGo, to expire in 2002 under George W. Bush's presidency clearing the way for large tax cuts which became significant contributors to subsequent budget deficits and national debt increases.

      Fast forward to 2013, the sequestration is set to go into effect March 1st if Congress does not act. As it sits now, both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate have each produced plans to replace the sequester. Unfortunately, neither branch will consider the others'. And so the Washington love-hate relationship with the blame game continues. It's the tactic both sides use to gain political points. Does it matter now who initiated the sequester idea or is it more important to find a solution? The President is pooling his recent reelection win, the bully pulpit and the public together to pressure the GOP to work towards a viable budgetary compromise. Is it still a tug of war over who's to blame? Absolutely, but with a different goal. It's about bringing the force of the country's majority upon congressional Republicans and drive them back toward the center. It's most certainly still a tug of war but it's one the GOP is losing 

      The situation is soon approaching when Republican leadership will have to decided if it is worth fighting for a majority of the majority or to abandon the Hastert rule, take the responsible path to bipartisanship and pass what is required to maintain the economic progress already made. If they stubbornly continue to demand the former then perhaps the voting public will determine for themselves who wins the blame game come next year's midterm elections.

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Very well-argued but there is something you are missing here. First, indeed it is likely that the public will blame the GOP more than the Democrats for the negative repercussions of the sequester. There is always a larger constituency for continued high levels of spending than for even a modest 2.4% reduction in the budget. The GOP knows this and the question is can enough Republicans hold the line to do what is right or whether they will cave. If they don't cave then the Republicans must then perforce hope for a double-dip recession and an ensuing dollar crisis because only a massive economic crisis, with the US dollar losing value precipitously as investors world wide begin thinking the US is sliding into bankruptcy, can hurt Obama and starve the beast of public spending, finally, once and for all, and take the blame of of the sequester business. In other words, the GOP is now more and more hoping for a big economic crisis because anything short of that, a middling slowdown with continued US government ability to finance a growing deficit, will result in the public blaming the GOP more and Obama winning the political popularity contest. The Republicans must now burn the village in order to save it.
Brian, you’ve made an excellent presentation of several perspectives here…and offered some decent opinion analysis.

I am not sure why the Republicans are insisting anything realistic about this problem can be accomplished without revenue increases (more taxes), but if they truly are buying into their own rhetoric, they are kidding themselves.

Fact is, the tax increases necessary to get us back on a decent footing are greater than even the Democrats are willing to acknowledge right now. We need lots more revenue…and unfortunately, a good deal of it is going to come from the middle class. The rich cannot give anywhere near what is needed…and the poor have nothing to give. The middle class will bear the brunt of what has to happen on the revenue side…and they are going to take an even bigger hit on the “reduce expenditures” side.

BUT…the only way to get on that road to the needed revenue increases is to start the trip by banging the rich much, much harder than is being proposed by the Democrats presently. The Republicans are fiercely resisting even these nominal increases for the rich, but compared with what is coming their way, this is petty change.

It has to happen! And quite honestly, it will happen whether the Democrats stay in control of the Oval Office and Senate…or if they lose both those areas to the Republicans.

Gonna be an interesting decade or two. Hope I stick around long enough to see at least the start of what is going to happen
As to who "owns" the sequester idea...

...anyone who really cares who started it simply does not understand the problem!
Yagoda> I think I eluded to the scorched earth mentality of some of the GOP, the Tea Party, extremist side but not in those specific words. I suppose I meant the GOP has to decided if they will continue to side with the stubborn extremes which are both pulling down the country and the party simultaneously or push them to the margins and find a compromise. In the end I think there are enough self-preservationists left in the GOP who will turn their backs on the far-right members.

"There is always a larger constituency for continued high levels of spending "

I think that's a misnomer. It's not a constituency FOR higher spending but responsible spending and maintaining the level of coverage for those social safety nets and others like education and investments in future endeavors.
I've mentioned this before a number of times in other posts but no one seemed to worry about spending until the recession hit when debt spending went up. This increase in debt spending had a LOT to do with the reduction of revenue which was a result of the drastic job losses during the recession (8.4+ million). We still had bills to pay. It also had to do with the large tax cuts under GW which caused the huge jump in deficits and debt during those years. The government spending and social program/safety nets were in MUCH better shape when GW took over than before he left, even before the recession hit.
So are the Republicans really trying to do what is right or are they simply choosing a hypocrisy-based fight? They have a huge stake in the current debt and deficits due to their own policies and have no real right to complain about it now or stubbornly refuse compromise. They need to be conciliatory and acquiesce their culpability in the whole situation. Then we can begin with honest work towards what is right.

"The Republicans must now burn the village in order to save it."

It seems the village was already burned down or was just barely saved at the end of the recession. That's the mistake some on the right are making. They believe they must get back into power to save things when they oversaw a great deal of the downfall as a result of many of their own policies. Democrats do have a hand in the blame as well as far as the elimination of regulations under Clinton. But the rebuilding from the fire is well underway and we DO NOT need to stoke the embers with irrational fear to drive another round of chaos. That is what the GOP thrives on, fear as a means to power. We saw that in the 2010 midterms and now many are experiencing buyers' remorse. Doing what the GOP feels is "right" is what has keep Europe down while the US has pulled itself up.

So no, I can't say I can agree with the need to bunr the village down again in order to do the "real" rebuilding. That would ruin progress already made and restrain the US's ability to maintain a sustainable place for itself in a 21st century world..
Frank Apisa> Thanks for another insightful comment.

I think the revenue issue is going to be largely solved with the gradual increase in employment as I feel the massive loss of jobs during the recession was quite significant. 8.4+ million income tax payers taken off the books represented a large reduction in revenue. Few people even mention this and I'm not sure why. But we've already seen reductions in budget deficits as more than half of those lost jobs have returned.
Yes, taxes do need to be revisited. The GW tax cuts were meant to be temporary and even before they were instituted their breadth of their impact was predicted. Eventually, they will need to be eliminated altogether. But taking them away from the middle class earners should wait until the economy is on more solid footing.

While we do need to reform the loopholes in the tax code, I don't think the actual level of tax increase are as high as you may be thinking. I could be wrong, though but I'm going to hold out hope for "debt reduction as jobs return" assertion.
The Republican Party is turning into a gaggle of nihilists aiming to bring this country to it's knees.... which it almost did under Bush.

Lyn LeJeune, The Mended Circle, newly released by Discovery of Heaven Press.... find it on
Lyn> Certainly is appearing that way isn't it? Given their stances one has to wonder if that is actually their aim but it's dumbfounding that they could really want things to go in that direction.
I really don't think it matters that much who gets the blame for the sequester. Both Obama, by buying lock, stock, and barrel into the Simpson-Bowles box canyon and the Republicans (just for being the crazy idiots that they are) can share the pain.

Unfortunately, we've seen this silly game played time and time again in Washington, DC in the last few years. Remember when the Republicans shut the government down during the Clinton administration?

Obviously, the Repugs deserve more blame when they refuse to have tax deductions for the uber-rich cut. But pain will be inflicted. The GOP in Congress will eventually cave with some compromise. And the silliness will go on. And Congress will still have a lower favorability rating than venereal disease.

And will this hurt the Republicans in 2014? Don't hold your breath. Remember, the off years are made for the GOP, especially with their gerrymanders.
Who is to "blame" for it is pretty damn moot in my book. If it is a way to decrease defense spending, and Republican obstancy is party to it, I'm all for it.

The worst backlash is that it leads back into the recession, but I'm not sure that isn't the usual fear mongering. Let them be the ones who bring it all down. See how that benefits their party.
Ben, Old new lefty> You both have a point that the blame for the sequester is not all that important now, dealing with solving the problem is.
That being said, there is a need to set the record straight as far as the overall situation and reminding people of what came before that led to this current manufactured crisis we're in.
Blame also can be useful in that it pressures those who are not part of the solution (the Republicans) to come back to the table for good faith negotiations. If they can actually see that they are not going to win this fight and the public most assuredly will punish them next year then they'll cut their losses in the end and act like adults.

Old New Lefty> Yes, the gerrymandering is a concern and may have set the composition of the current House pretty much in stone. Then again, it may inspire those latent voters in those districts to get to the polls and make a difference, much like the backfiring of the voter supression efforts last year. Fingers crossed, right?
It's been widely discussed there's a segment of the Congress who are not going to comply for any reason. They "hate" Obama on grounds that have nothing to do with fiscal responsibility and want to take advantage of any opportunity they can to make that clear.

Obama knows all about. He did before he took office and his entire presidency can be defined by how he has dealth with it. The question is really one of what can be done in spite of them given whatever leverage he can apply with other legislators and the powers vested in his office. It's about his ability to outmaneuver them.
Ben> That's exactly correct, there are many who will oppose anything just because the "hate" Obama and they're not shy about giving that as a reason.

"The question is really one of what can be done in spite of them..."

Abandon the Hastert rule, the GOP's demand they get the majority of the majority for any piece of legislation. This rule negates bipartisanship. They did abandon it for the fiscal cliff garnering enough Democratic votes to overcome the "oppose everything" members. I see that is how it will get done and that should really be the way of things anyways.
let's see if they do it again.
I don't care who wants to point the finger at whom. I have been watching the change to the Republican Party going on for 35 years now. I used to vote primarily Republican, but I haven't done that since George H. W. Bush ("Dubya's" Daddy) except as a counter to some of the worst I've seen in corrupted Democratic candidates, knowing it might all balance out. Other than that I have voted either for Democrats or Independents as much as possible and whenever possible, for contenders to get incumbents out of office.

I think, whether we have the sequester or not, we're going to see some real economic pain. This has less to do with Party politics and more to do with the politics of the uber-rich buying their candidates from both parties, paying for legislation written by lobbyists who have "captured" regulatory bodies in government and have eviscerated American Manufacturing and Production through NAFTA, where they literally send American manufacturing and production jobs overseas to pay foreigners a fraction of the cost, have foreign governments build their facilities for them and don't have to pay for all those pesky regulations, benefits, labor law oversight, health regulations or even have to worry about reducing the price of their products when they make savings in costs (and you can't tell me that the money they save is being passed on to the consumer -- or reflected in the actual profit the companies make, because they engorge their Board Level Pay -- current average of CEO/Average Employee pay in the USA is 700:1, the industrial world average is more like 50:1.)

It's practices like these that will harm us the most. Of course, with Corporations paying even less in taxes than they have since the start of the Great Depression, with the ultra wealthy paying even less in taxes since before the Great Depression and with more people unemployed since the Great Depression, the idea that more Austerity is what we need smacks of repeating bad history.

Unless we, as a people change the way our representatives do things, then that strange gurgling sound we'll all be hearing is the sound of the Great Toilet flushing us into the Great Depression II, Part II. With sequestration it's pretty much a guranty that we'll dip down and head towards a great decline from unilateral and stupid cuts to spending. Without sequestration, I place the odds at fifty fifty that we can somehow manage ourselves out of heading into the next phase of the latest Great Depression II. I'm hopeful, though not optimistic.

Currently if sequestration does go into effect, it will most certainly be the fault of the Republican Party. We *CAN* afford to "kick the can" further down the road. This is an issue that requires of us as a nation to examine the facts, look at the data and stop all this politicking to party ideology and start having the nation's best interests as a whole in mind. We cannot solve this issue in a single administration's term, nor can we solve it with recalcitrant intransigence and insistence on doing business as usual.

If we need more revenue, then we also need more income redistribution in the form of progressive taxation. If we need more spending cuts, then we also need more understanding of our policies and practices that put those monies into programs -- and use evidence, fact based decision making to make our spending more efficient and to be able to properly cut out those programs and policies that show how harm is created by some kinds of spending. If we need more jobs, then we need more regulations preventing American Companies calling themselves American if less than 80% of their manufacturing and production occur here in this country. If we need better foreign relations, how about we stand up for American interests through diplomacy instead of a gun barrel?

These things can be achieved, but only if enough American People stay focused on their representatives. Stop letting them justify and rationalize their selfish and self-serving behaviors and make them represent their consituencies, irrespective of their political party or ideology. I don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat. You are a constituent and if you don't like the way things are going, contact your state and national representatives in office and demand they represent US and not themselves.

Sorry if I sound like I was ranting there, but the sequester is a fool's errand. If you see the online petition to request your representative to repeal the sequester, I encourage you to do so. If we don't all at least try, then those who let it slip past will be to blame, be they office holders or constituents. I stand by the people of this country. A sequester is a bad idea and if we can get them all to agree to that, then repealing it is the only sane option at this point. We can renege on our legislation if we all agree it was a stupid idea in the first place.

I mean really. Mutually assured destruction of the economy *SOUNDS* like it could work -- until it doesn't.

thanks Brian for the sounding board.
dunniteowl> Some great points there.

You're right we can afford to kick the can down the road a bit. Maybe that turn out being a preferable option if that "later" brings in a more professional, adult acting Congress that can come to a compromise. That compromise could very well produce a longlasting, viable tax plan/reform & budget/debt reduction.

We do need to change the way our representatives do things but in order to do that we need a better class of potential representative. Perhaps we can all vote for open primaries, eliminating the issues caused with gerrymandering and excessive partisanship.

Thanks for the comment!
they fixed california's similar problems with a referendum. why is there no pressure for democracy at the federal level?
If only it were this cut and dried - but alas, it is not. Everything succinctly planted before us is smoke and mirrors for us little one's. Keeping us bickering and divided is how Washington operates in order to keep their own interests in the forefront. The rating agencies were known to be corrupt and working hand in glove with the companies they alledged to be rating. Instead, money passed hands for decades and without doubt is still doing so. No, we've been here before. This is all old hat, and when are we going to smarten up?