Obama wants to have it both ways on the sequester

Whitehouse.gov

US President Barack Obama speaks to members of the United States Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton on August 7, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • The military needs presidential leadership to replace the sequester

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  • Obama to the nation on October 22, 2012: Sequestration "will not happen."

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  • If Obama means what he says, now is the time to stop talking and start negotiating to undo sequestration

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Earlier this week, speaking to a crowd of Marines, President Obama condemned the effects of sequestration, arguing that these dramatic cuts are "not how a great nation should be treating its military and military families." The president went on the reassure these servicemembers that he would "keep on working to get rid of the sequester." The president even went so far as to say that he is frustrated that "sometimes the very folks who say they stand with our military proudly are the same ones who are standing in the way of fixing the sequester."

While both parties must ultimately agree to the final deal, the military needs presidential leadership to negotiate a workable agreement to replace these automatic budget cuts disproportionately hitting the U.S. military.

Instead, the president is trying to have it both ways when it comes to the sequestration blame game. During the final presidential debate last October, Mitt Romney raised the overhang of sequestration in an attempt to demonstrate the scale of the administration's proposed and enacted defense cuts. The president shrugged off the attack saying, "First of all, the sequester is not something that I've proposed. It's something that Congress proposed. It will not happen."

This last part bears repeating. Obama to the nation on October 22, 2012: Sequestration "will not happen."

Yet it is August and Washington is noting the passage of the two-year anniversary of the Budget Control Act, which created the sequester. Worse, sequestration not only took effect but is still very much trickling down to those in uniform and their families, and has been for almost half a year.

As Bob Woodward chronicled extensively, the president's contention that he did not propose sequestration is just plain false. As Woodward's book "The Price of Politics" discusses, White House staffers Jack Lew and Rob Nabors devised the plan, which was "personally approved" by the president before it was proposed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. 

Regardless of who gave birth to the abhorrent process of sequestration, the administration has had nearly a year and a half to make things better by finding a replacement before the cuts began to really hit home.

Hope apparently still springs eternal for the president. If Obama meant what he said to those Marines at Camp Pendleton, now it is time for him to stop talking and start negotiating to undo sequestration.

Unfortunately, the record suggests that the administration will continue to avoid leading when it comes to a grand bargain. This is most unfortunate, because the president is entirely right on one point: the men and women of our military deserve better. 

Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

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