On Sequester, Obama Gambles on Washington Monument Strategy

Once upon a time, President Obama believed “the time has come to set aside childish things” and chose “hope over fear.”  Now, however, the President believes inciting public fear is an entirely appropriate political tactic, especially if he can leverage that fear to extract another tax increase.

Using police officers and fire fighters as a political backdrop, the commander-in-chief alleged the forthcoming sequester would “eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research.”  He continued:

Emergency responders like the ones who are here today — their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded.  Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced.  FBI agents will be furloughed.  Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go.  Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country.  Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off.  Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.

This, ladies and gentleman, is the classic Washington Monument Strategy.

A 1995 Los Angeles Times article explains the origins of what political strategists refer to as the Washington Monument Strategy:

A [government shutdown] in 1990 forced President George Bush to close many government services. The Park Service shut down the Washington Monument, for example, and the public suddenly began to pay attention. The two sides quickly compromised.

The lesson learned by every politician, including Bill Clinton in 1995 and 1996, was to make the impact of government spending cuts personal to the American people – make them feel the pain, or at least fear the pain.  So, rather than unveil a responsible plan to implement the automatic spending cuts that Congress passed and he signed, President Obama chose fear.

Fear mongering is a childish and irresponsible way to budget and certainly not the approach most families would take if faced with a similar situation.  Even National Journal’s Matthew Cooper, who thinks there is a “good side” to the sequester, said Americans ” should be wary of the ‘firemen first’ principle, where agencies cut or threaten to cut their most popular programs first.”

If, on August 2, 2011, you found out your family’s household budget would be pared down by 2.4% in 2013, what would you do?  For families at the median income mark of roughly $50,000, that would amount to a $1,180 reduction.

Many families would opt for preemptive adaptation.  They would begin altering their family’s spending habits, starting in August 2011.  The federal government did not do this of course.  They continued to shop at the Wegmans and Whole Foods, instead of switching over to Shoppers or Save-A-Lot.  They continued to buy their extra large white mocha frappiatos, as opposed to brewing some Folgers at home.

Facing an immediate 2.4% reduction, a family would likely gather around the kitchen table and ask, “Okay, where can we cut?”  If President Obama were making the decision for your family (which he is inclined to do at times), he’d tell you to stop buying gas for your car and explain how you could only eat five days a week.  No family would accept that false choice.  Instead, families would go line-by-line to see what is absolutely essential (gas for commuting, food to eat, etc.) and where they could save.

For example, they could use gas reward points, stop eating out, ditch the booze, or make any number of other responsible choices. Small changes in a family’s spending habits can really add up.  For example, if you buy a $4 latte every day before work, you’ll spend roughly $1,000 a year at your favorite neighborhood coffee shop.

Sure, no one likes sacrificing a tasty caffeine jolt or trading the ambiance of Whole Foods for Shoppers, but no one likes unpaid bills, collection notices and bankruptcy either.

Of course, the ultimate irony with President Obama’s Washington Monument Strategy is that the iconic monument remains closed for repairs due to the August 2011 earthquake.  President Obama should shutter his disingenuous strategy, too.  The American people deserve better.


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Obama's sequester strategy is to make people feel the pain, or at least fear the pain.

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Despite impending fiscal crisis, government continued to buy extra large white mocha frappiatos.

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