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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Obama Wants it Both Ways on Sequester


During his stop-the-sequester roadshow stop in Newport News, Va., today, President Obama cut to the heart of the issue. What doesn't make sense about sequestration, he argued, is what he has previously characterized as its "meat-cleaver" approach to budget cuts:

Now, the reason that we're even thinking about the sequester is because people are rightly concerned about the deficit and the debt.  But there is a sensible way of doing things and there is a dumb way of doing things.  I mean, think about your own family.  Let's say that suddenly you've got a little less money coming in. Are you going to say, well, we'll cut out college tuition for the kid, we'll stop feeding the little guy over here, we won't pay our car note even though that means we can't get to work -- that’s not what you do, right? 

So it might seem the solution would be in providing flexibility for the administration and federal agencies to apportion the cuts in a more rational way. That's exactly the idea some Republican leaders are kicking around this week.

But this approach doesn't suit the president either:

Now, lately, some people have been saying, well, maybe we'll just give the president some flexibility.  He could make the cuts the way he wants and that way it won't be as damaging.  The problem is when you're cutting $85 billion in seven months, which represents over a 10 percent cut in the defense budget in seven months, there's no smart way to do that.  There's no smart way to do that.  You don't want to have to choose between, let's see, do I close funding for the disabled kid, or the poor kid?  Do I close this Navy shipyard or some other one?  When you're doing things in a way that's not smart, you can't gloss over the pain and the impact it's going to have on the economy.  

There's a larger point here, of course: Obama is seeking a more balanced approach to addressing the deficit that involves a mix of new tax revenues and cuts. But right now he's in a political position in which he has to tread a very thin line on the issue of exactly how to implement reductions that seem to be coming whether he likes it or not.

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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