The Conversation

Bill Keller Blames Obama for the Sequester

Bill Keller of the NY Times wrote an op-ed over the weekend which, while still taking some shots at the GOP, managed to lay some of the blame for "the large mess we are in" at the President's feet.

The piece is titled "Obama's Fault" and that more or less sums up the theme. Keller's opening paragraph sounds like something Charles Krauthammer might have written, "The White House spent last week in full campaign hysteria, blitzing online followers with the message that heartless Republicans are prepared to transform America into 'Les Misérables' in order to protect 'millionaires and billionaires, oil companies, vacation homes, and private jet owners.'”

Of course this is Keller not Krauthammer so the GOP does come in for some bashing. He writes "much of the responsibility for our perpetual crisis can be laid at the feet of a pigheaded Republican Party, cowed by its angry, antispending, antitaxing, anti-Obama base." But Keller gets past this and actually takes the President to task. After noting that Obama came into office promising the time to put off "unpleasant decisions" was over, he didn't keep his word:

The Simpson-Bowles agenda was imperfect, and had plenty to offend ideologues of the left and right, which meant that it was the very manifestation of what Obama likes to call “a balanced approach.” So did he seize it as an opportunity for serious debate about our fiscal mess? No, he abandoned it. Instead, he built a re-election campaign that was long on making the wealthiest pay more in taxes, short on spending discipline, and firmly hands-off on the problem of entitlements.

Greg Sargent argues that Obama did make some moves toward entitlement reform, though the ones he points out came in 2012 after the Budget Control Act was signed into law and after sequestration was triggered. Obama's plan for sequester replacement, which includes some Medicare cuts, was always an attempt to move the goalposts on a deal he'd already signed. Too little; too late. The time to get that deal would have been August of 2011, but back then the President blew up the negotiations by demanding more revenue after a handshake deal had been reached with Boehner.

According to the Post, the President didn't want to look like a weak negotiator in 2011. As we know from Bob Woodward, he also didn't want to fight about it in 2012 so agreed to sequestration that was all cuts for a debt limit increase that would take him past the election. Add in his decision to walk away from Simpson-Bowles and any way you slice it, sequestration comes back to political calculations made in the last two years by President Obama.


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