Conservatives and Washington observers across the spectrum lashed out on Friday at the White House and Capitol Hill for not reaching an agreement to avoid the $85 billion in broad budget cuts imposed at midnight under the sequester.
“It is a complete disaster,” Democratic pollster Doug Schoen charged in a Newsmax interview. “It is a failure of leadership of the president. It is the failure of leadership of both political parties — Democrat and Republican.
“We have no priorities,” Schoen added. “We have no budget — and we have no leadership. We are a rudderless ship careening out of control. We are in unchartered waters.”
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Meanwhile, conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh blasted President Barack Obama for holding a news conference after the failed talks, painting a grim picture of how the cross-government cuts would affect average Americans.
“It's narcissistic, it's self-indulgent, blameless,” Limbaugh said on his afternoon program. “I've never seen this kind of self-absorption. It's uncanny.
“This president stands up there today and he enjoys reciting the kind of pain Americans are going to feel,” Limbaugh added. “Now, he does it in a way that blames the Republicans for it.”
Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks, agreed.
“The Obama administration is way overplaying the hysteria and is acting quite irresponsibly in their unwillingness to manage what really amounts to a small haircut on mostly discretionary spending,” Kibbe told Newsmax. “They can manage this better instead of demagoguing, but perhaps their vitriol is driven by a concern that the public might not actually notice a small haircut on the current increase in spending.”
In hopes of reaching an agreement to avoid the cuts, Obama summoned the four congressional leaders to the White House for last-ditch talks. They were Republicans House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Democrats House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
They met for less than an hour — and the discussions failed.
Obama blamed the Republicans for failing to stop the cuts, and the GOP participants faulted the president for insisting that tax increases be a part of the deal.
“We had a very nice, polite discussion,” Boehner told NBC’s David Gregory in a “Meet the Press” interview scheduled for Sunday. “But I had asked the president and Senator Reid to come with a plan to replace the sequester.
“Listen, we’ve known about this for sixteen months,” Boehner said. “And yet, even today there’s no plan from Senate Democrats or the White house to replace the sequester. And over the last ten months, House Republicans have acted twice to replace the sequester.”
When asked whether Boehner saw a pathway to an agreement, he responded, “If I did, that meeting at the White House today might have gone better.”
“Today’s meeting was an opportunity to restate our commitment to the American people that we would significantly reduce Washington spending,” McConnell said after the session. “Over the coming weeks, we’ll have the opportunity to ensure funding is at the level we promised while working on solutions for making spending reductions more intelligently than the president’s across-the-board cuts.
“But I want to make clear that any solutions will be done through the regular order, with input from both sides of the aisle in public debate,” the GOP leader added. “I will not be part of any back-room deal — and I will absolutely not agree to increase taxes.”
The $85 billion in across-the-board cuts, also known as the sequester, were moved to March 1 under the “fiscal-cliff” deal that was reached in January.
Two proposals aimed at blunting the blame over the cuts, one Republican and the other Democratic, were rejected on Thursday in the Senate.
The nation’s military is expected to be hit with as much as half of the sequester cuts, Arizona Sen. John McCain said on Friday.
The Defense Department has already experienced $487 billion in cuts, he said.
“These cuts are half in defense,” he told the “Fox & Friends” morning TV program. “Defense is about $1 out of every $5 dollars. The hit on defense is enormous.
“This is a dangerous world,” McCain added. “In North Korea, the tensions are there. The centrifuges are spinning in Tehran. The Middle East is in a state of unrest, where one of these places could explode at any moment — and we’re going to have further cuts.
“The most important job of the president of the United States is commander-in-chief,” McCain told Fox. “It seems to me that the commander-in-chief should be calling people over to the White House and saying that: “If this is devastating to our national security, as I, the president of the United States is describing it, then we ought to sit down and prevent this from happening to defense.’”
But, instead, Obama has spent most of the time leading up to the sequester barnstorming the country, saying that the cuts would hurt such average Americans as first-responders, teachers, and air-traffic controllers.
That also came under fire from Limbaugh on his Friday radio show.
“He's the leader of the country. He is supposed to be doing things to prevent all of this, and yet not only is he not doing things to prevent it, he is encouraging these kinds of hurtful, harmful things to happen so he can blame the Republicans for it,” Limbaugh said. “We’re getting the opposite of leadership. There is no real concern for people and their lives. That's feigned.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, agreed.
“What we are witnessing now from this White House is perhaps the most cynical behavior I have seen during my time in Washington,” the Alabama senator said. “One would think any president would leap at the opportunity to make government more effective and responsive.
“But what does the president do instead?” Sessions asked. “He says Republicans are ‘cutting vital services for children’ to ‘benefit the well-off and well-connected.’ This has been the strategy now for years.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told Newsmax that if the federal government needed somewhere to cut spending, it needed to start with its own bloated bureaucracy.
“The cuts need to happen in D.C., starting with the White House staff, Congress, and all the political appointees throughout the federal system,” Huckabee told Newsmax. “For the president to act as if he can't conceive having a reduction in increased spending the same size of the cut working families took by the loss of the payroll deduction tax break is an admission of the inability to govern.”
In January, a 2 percent cut on payroll taxes — used to finance Social Security — expired after two years. The tax rose back to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent, costing someone making $50,000 a year about $1,000 annually and a household with two high-paid workers up to $4,500.
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Meanwhile, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, predicted that Congress next week will pass appropriations measures that would give the administration more spending room during the sequester.
“We have already negotiated spending bills with respect to veteran’s affairs, military — and that will be part of this, because those spending levels have been negotiated,” the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate told CNBC on Thursday. “You will see more flexibility for the military, national security and more flexibility for domestic spending, so that the president and the agencies can go after waste and inefficiency as the sequester takes place.”
Al Cardenas, chairman of the influential American Conservative Union, said that such appropriations coming next fiscal year would be effective in helping restore the nation’s financial stability.
“Now that the sequester is official, it is imperative that the Congress follow through to get this country back on the road to fiscal sanity,” Cardenas told Newsmax. “We will support a continuing resolution that strictly adheres to the new budget numbers under the sequester and will urge Speaker Boehner and the House to follow up with appropriations bills for the next fiscal year that are consistent with the sequester.”
And while sequestration is “a symptom of the dysfunction in Washington,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola told Newsmax that the cuts were good for the nation.
“It’s actually reducing spending, which Congress doesn’t seem to accomplish any other way,” Chocola said. “It’s been oversold as a painful thing.
“It’s not going to be the end of the world,” he added. “It’s going to be the example that we can reduce the size of government without a drastic result, but this is better than nothing.”
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