ABC-6 Reporter Mark Curtis: "The Sunday Political Brunch" March - ABC6 - Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA News, Weather


ABC-6 Reporter Mark Curtis: "The Sunday Political Brunch" March 3, 2013

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by Mark Curtis, ABC6 Chief Political Reporter

(Providence, Rhode Island) – With all the talk about sequestration and automatic budget cuts in the news, I thought I would take you behind the scenes today for some perspective on political strategy. While most of my career has been on the outside, covering politics as a reporter, I did spend enough time on the inside of the political process to gain valuable insight into how political tacticians operate. The things I am about to share I neither endorse, nor condemn. I am simply trying to break down and reveal the behind the scenes strategy.

"Where's the Urgency?"- There was no sense of panic in Washington Friday and that should be a big clue (nor was there panic on Wall Street). Yes the President met with Congressional leaders, but that was more "show" for the press and public. Truth be told, both sides are not sure where this issue will swing on public opinion (because the full impact – or lack of impact from the cuts – is not really known yet). Both sides really want to wait and see, and perhaps take credit, or affix blame, weeks or months from now.

"The ‘Trickle-Down' Effect" – Many of the spending cuts are gradual, and many are quite small.  Because we are talking employee furloughs and not layoffs, the impact is more gradual and less visual. Take defense spending for example. Telling employees they will face 22 furlough days in the next year, means an average of a nine percent pay cut. They'll work a lot of four-day weeks, but they are still working, albeit with a pay cut. Now, you could have had the same net gain, by simply laying off nine percent of the defense workforce indefinitely. Can you image the TV images with that many people standing outside the unemployment office Monday morning? It would have caused a firestorm. Instead, there are no such photo ops for the press. Believe me; people in politics strategize this way, as cynical as that may sound.

"No Fingerprints" – This may be a win-win for both parties. It isn't like there was a vote Thursday night in the House and Senate that set the budget cuts in motion first thing Friday morning. Instead, the automatic sequester cuts were part of a deal last year between President Obama and Congressional leaders. Lots of people who voted on this are no longer even in Congress. There is no instant list people can pull up to affix credit or blame (although you could Google it). This is very much like the BRAC process (the Base Realignment and Closure Commissions), which made the decisions on which military bases to close in the 1980s and 90s, instead of having Congress do it. The sequester process limits the Congressional fingerprints (and therefore the blame). The cuts were automatic and not the result of a recent, direct vote. These kinds of legislative tricks are why incumbency is still so powerful. Accountability, (i.e. blame), can be "managed."

"The Gamble" – Republicans have wanted significant spending cuts, but with no tax increases. They got what they wanted in the short term. Democrats want to be able to force the hand of Republicans, and get some of those revenue increases, but that's more of a long term strategy. If the economy tanks and goes back into recession in the next six months, Republicans lose and the consequences for the mid-term elections could be dire. If the impact of sequester on the national economy is imperceptible, Democrats lose and the pressure for more spending cuts will become a Congressional campaign mantra for Republicans. Right now, control of the U.S. Senate in 2014 is up for grabs. And even though President Obama will not face voters again, his legacy is on the line. He doesn't want to leave the White House with the economy even worse than it was when he arrived. There are risks all around.

"Defending Defense" – Republicans are probably risking the most. They hold a public perception of being stronger on national defense, so to agree to cuts across the board – including defense – seems in conflict. But what they are really cutting - through furloughs - is people, and on a rotating basis. They aren't cutting missiles or battleships or VA benefits. If it works, Republicans can claim there are no sacred cows from budget cuts. On the downside, the "ripple effect" on the economy is of big concern. Some military communities are a "one-horse" town when it comes to the economy. They have the military, but no other real industry. If you cut nine percent of the military income, you've also cut nine percent of spending power at local restaurants, car dealerships and stores. The rolling momentum of an economic downtown could start very slow, but could have significant critical mass a year from now. Again, it's a calculated risk.

"At the Movies!" – Okay, enough talk on sequester! I had to watch "Argo" this weekend after it won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It reminded me a lot of "Apollo 13" with Hollywood taking a good swing at a real life, gripping and dramatic event. In an era of government cynicism, I found both movies demonstrated the "can do" attitude that this nation (and its government) can actually accomplish good things in the face of adversity. So, I liked "Argo" (especially the roles played by John Goodman and Alan Arkin), but I still think "Lincoln" should have won Best Picture!

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Also, if you wish to contribute the making of the film, "Amazing Ops: Siege at Benghazi," then click on this link:

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