When the last minute talks with Democratic and Republican leaders from the House and Senate failed to produce a compromise, President Barack Obama failed to provide the steady, guiding hand of a true leader. Instead, he told a press conference that followed the talks that Republicans had once again stood in the way of any possible deal to stop the sequester when they refused to consider further “revenues” (taxes) as a part of a compromise package. When asked a direct question as to whether he was partly responsible for the impasse, he ducked the question and continued to place the blame squarely on the Republican Congress. He asked one reporter (pathetically), “What more do you think I should have done?”
The Republican position was clear. As most Americans already know, a major payroll tax appeared on everyone’s paycheck in January, a substantial increase for the average American, and one many can ill afford. While the President was fully prepared to add an even greater tax burden on the American people, Republicans refused to go along, saying that they would not consider adding any new taxes to an already burdened middle and lower class, just weeks before a significant slash in their salaries. That is where negotiations should have begun, not ended.
Negotiations are a very large part of the political process, bargaining, exchanging, and finding a compromise between what are often widely divergent positions. Negotiating, when done properly, is something close to an art form, that enables people to meet somewhere in the middle of the wide divide that separates them, with each party leaving the table feeling that they have won something.
But negotiating does not seem to be a strong talent of the President, who appeared irritated by those who disagreed with him and said that he would consider making an end run around Congress if he did not get his way through regular channels. Given the warnings of imminent disaster that he and his top officials gave to the American public during the weeks preceding the deadline, many were shocked when, the day before the sequester was to take effect, , although he had no public events on his calendar, the President was not available to meet with representatives of Congress in order to help avert the sequester. When he should have been convening party leaders to lead them in negotiating a solution to the fiscal dilemma, he was AWOL and did not meet with them until the final day arrived, pushing the political envelope as far as it could possibly go.
President Obama missed a huge opportunity this time. He should have walked out of the Friday meeting a hero who had saved the day and led both sides into a resolution. Instead he blamed the Republicans for standing in the way of an agreement, because they would not consider the further taxes he wanted. When he should have been leading, he chose not to. He preferred to use the moment to score political points by allowing the Americans who voted him into office to suffer the worst blows from across-the-board cuts, applying them in the most cruel and painful manner in order, to make his political points.
Since then, several things have happened. Thousands of illegal immigrants, jailed for a variety of criminal offenses, have been released without any notice or consultation with state or local authorities. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano at first said (on national television) that she had “no idea who made the decision” to release the prisoners. But the following day, she announced that several thousand more would soon be released.
Napolitano also told the press that there were now long lines at several airports as a result of the sequester, a statement that was not confirmed by travelers on the scene. She even listed several airports, including O’Hare, Los Angeles, and others. Like other statements made by various members of the administration, including the President, it turned out to be untrue, apparently meant to scare Americans into supporting the President’s position on revenues instead of spending cuts.
On Tuesday, the White House announced that public tours of the White House, a tradition that has been going on for decades, would be canceled indefinitely. What is supposed to be the “People’s House” is now closed to the public.
The strategy that the administration seems to have taken is to spread alarm over the impact of the meager spending cuts, with dire warnings of thousands of jobs lost and services to the most needy cut.
Considering how much waste there is in the federal budget, it is unconscionable that the government is talking about cutting critical services instead of wasteful and unnecessary projects (see President Punishes American People Instead of Allowing Common Sense Cuts in Sequester)
Isn’t it time for the President to stop campaigning for his ideological programs and start applying himself to the job that he was elected to do? Shouldn’t he be working to lead this country into more prosperous times and to serve the people who put him in the White House, instead of whining about how the opposition is defeating the only program that he believes is the right one? When will he stop campaigning and start doing his job?