The Alternative Universe in Washington


You get the impression listening to the President, cabinet secretaries, and others discussing the sequester cuts that the American people do not understand “cuts” mean furloughs, layoffs, cancelled initiatives, frozen pay, cut benefits, and an uncertain future.  It rings particularly untrue when the President acts like a middle manager and touts all the horrors of modest cuts to growth in federal spending.  As someone who has participated in mass RIFs (reductions in force), the President has spent the last week acting just like a junior manager who “does not get it.”

The decision is made the cuts are going to happen. Today the President refused the Republican offer to give the him the flexibility to make the decision on targeted cuts.  I have never met a CEO who would not seize that offer of flexibility from a board of directors.

What leader refuses the offer to lead?

It is as if Washington lived through 2008 and 2009 and the years afterward as a business school case.  Well guess what DC, those unemployment figures were real people with mortgages and the people hanging around the park mid-day with kids or working retail were furloughed.  That was real suffering and now it is going to happen to federal employees and the crony capitalists.

And I am in total agreement that across the board cuts are ridiculous.  I worked in a large printing company where for years I begged for more investment in a small software business the printer owned by accident.  In years where we spent 60 or 65 million dollars in capital on equipment the software business got scraps.  When cuts came, they got their across the board share.

The broad cuts did not save the main business and killed the little business that was the future.  That is the issue with the sequester cuts and March budget battles.  Are they going to follow the path of the bankrupts from 2008 and 2009 or the smart companies that de-levered, shed unessential functions, and focused on best in class strategy.

Talk to me about leadership, long term entitlement reform, how you are going to pass immigration reform, how we are going to compete in Asia.  Do not try and scare me with a vision of job cuts, furloughs, and stupidity over a minor budget battle.  Whining achieves nothing.




  1. I agree that this week’s whinging and “the sky is falling” wails have been a waste of time.

    On the other hand, I am of a mind that Obama is the first president in recent history to respect the limitations of his role under the Constitution. Many seem enamored of the notion that The President ought to take control and force a solution to the country’s fiscal problems as though he were some beneficent autocrat. Of course he should have an informed opinion on important matters like the fiscal situation of the country, and voice his opinion even to the point of recommending legislation, but that and the “veto” are the extent of his power in the Constitution.

    Under the Constitution, the Congress has the power to tax, spend, borrow, minting money and regulate commerce. Whenever I hear a Senator or Representative complaining about the President’s lack of leadership in the “fiscal crisis” I am reminded of how sadly deficient we are as a citizenry. That Congress feels little to no accountability for making the difficult calls reflects poorly on us who elect the members. We vote for people who appear to correspond most closely with our own parochial views rather than electing leaders who feel empowered to make the tough calls. Narrow, short-term self-interest drives our choices. Over the years, that has led to Congresses that have found it easiest to give us what we want and “put it on the national credit card” instead of actually having to pay for government spending in real time. They spout nonsense like “a rising tide will lift all boats” which we all believe because we want to believe it.

    I credit Obama with putting the accountability squarely where it should be – on Congress, and thus on US.

    Whether that will bring us to our senses is another matter altogether. Unfortunately, history has shown that democracies only make tough choices in a crisis – and often too late.

    • Vince, thanks for the comments. I get your technical reading of the Constitution and don’t disagree with it. But the reality is that we have two political parties in this country and the President is the leader of one of them. None of the political party dynamics are in the Constitution, but like the filibuster in the Senate it is reality.

      He is in my opinion, now backed by his sinking poll numbers, not a very effective leader of a governing party. He’s not calling on the Senate to do anything, he’s just calling on the Republicans to capitulate. The Senate is in my opinion where you can really zero in on a lack of leadership. They have not had regular order with committee hearings, pass a bill, go to conference in 4 years.

      I really do not see how you can blame the Republicans in the House, I say that as a Democrat, when they’ve passed two bills to replace the sequester and the Senate has passed nothing and refused to pass an alternative. Obviously Republican filibuster efforts are a problem here – the failure is bipartisan.

      These guys need to get back to regular order as set forth in Constitution. Get on with hearings, pass a bill, go to conference, produce a final bill, and send it to the President.

      President Obama is in my view a great guy, wonderful family, and a middle manager lost in hopeless causes, score settling, and campaigning for 2014, while the country blunders along despite him. And it really worries me for the Democratic Party and the country.

      It’s not Nero, but it is Stanley Baldwin.


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