During the 2008 primary campaign, Barack Obama made no secret of his contempt for the Clinton administration’s policy of “playing small ball.” He aimed instead for the Reagan model, to be a transformative president, transcending the triangulating caution of the Clinton machine.
He has shown again that he will make good on that promise with his behavior in the lead-up to the budget sequestration deadline. Here he is, having proposed a law, and advocated its passage through the Congress, going around raising money to campaign against that law’s implementation. And he’s taken a page from the Clinton playbook, and doubled down on it.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that Organizing for America is promising quarterly meetings with the president and continuing access to White House staff throughout the year, in exchange for donations of $500,000 to Obama’s campaign to bully Congress into voting down the sequester that he himself proposed. Clinton charged only $100,000 for a night in the Lincoln Bedroom. Transcendental? You bet. Transformative? Yes, if it works.
But Obama’s greatest transcendent acts relate to his executive actions in connection with the budget sequester.
During the 1995 budget standoff and government shutdown, I was a career Foreign Service officer, stationed in Kuwait. The administration issued orders that only essential personnel were to be maintained in current pay status, and that all others were to be furloughed. (They ended up receiving full pay retroactively, so no actual federal employees were harmed in the making of that policy.)
Our ambassador told us that he deemed every one of us essential, or we wouldn’t be at the post in the first place. He went on, however, to share with us the OMB guidelines about what to do during the period with limited budget authority. We were not to issue visas; we were not to provide services to American citizens. We were not to respond to requests from the media for information. The policy of the Clinton administration was to order every federal employee who was still working to refuse all but the most essential services to American citizens. We were to “make it hurt,” and let voters see just how essential government really is.
But Obama has transcended that as well, dwarfing the petty overreach of that policy. He has taken steps, before the sequester has even taken effect, that violate the three most basic constitutional duties of the federal government: securing the borders, facilitating interstate commerce, and providing for the national defense.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released several hundred prisoners from jail, without even notifying local authorities. ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen explained this as a reaction to the prospect of the budget cuts. Individual governors and county executives have claimed that several hundred prisoners were released in their states and counties, raising the question of just how many prisoners actually have been released nationwide.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has warned travelers to expect long lines and delays at airports, because of budget cuts. Rather than cut unnecessary spending on peripheral governmental functions, the administration is cutting core functions with a bandsaw.
And in the most shocking abdication of presidential duty in living memory, President Obama has decreed that the USS Truman aircraft carrier group will not deploy to the Persian Gulf, at a time when Iran has just been shown to be developing plutonium, as well as uranium, in its path to making a nuclear bomb. Bob Woodward calls it “a kind of madness.”
It is hard to underestimate the importance of an aircraft carrier for pacifying a region on the brink of war. It is not just one ship, but an entire flotilla of warships and supply vessels that exceed the entire defensive capacity of most medium-sized countries. The presence of a carrier group is the single most effective deterrent to military aggression in the world; its absence from an unstable region is an open invitation to mischief.
Make it hurt? Oh, 1995 was chicken feed. Clinton’s policies inconvenienced Americans, and were undertaken during a government shutdown brought on by a lack of legal budgetary authority. Obama’s policies interfere with interstate travel and commerce, threaten the integrity of our borders and the safety of our communities, and jeopardize the lives of our military service members stationed in the part of the world most likely to erupt into war. And this is all being done because of a proposed 2% cut in the budget — not a government shutdown. What household, business, or individual, if forced to cut expenses by 2%, would abandon personal safety, police protection, and economic necessities before the cuts even took place?
And please keep in mind that all this has come about because the president has not once, in four years in office, submitted a budget to the Congress, as he is constitutionally obligated to do. And the Senate, controlled by the president’s own party, has not once passed a budget since 2008. Only the House of Representatives has passed budgets, but none has received serious consideration from either the Senate or the president.
Instead, we are left bound to the conveyor belt, headed for the budget sawmill created by President Obama. Meanwhile, Obama is standing aside, pointing a finger of scorn at House Republicans, asking why they don’t do anything to stop the madness. And the national media stand by, reporting with a straight face every banality issued by the White House.
Madness, indeed. But the madness is ours, not the president’s. He’s crazy like a fox.
Bart Marcois was a career Foreign Service officer, serving in four Middle Eastern countries. He is the former principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs.