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WaPo Fact Checker: 4 Pinocchios For Obama Saying Congress Came Up With Sequester; Woodward: “Obama Told A Whopper”‏

October 26th, 2012 by mopns · No Comments

Following President Obama’s claim Monday that the defense sequester is “not something that I’ve proposed” and Obama Chief of Staff Jack Lew trying to claim it was the idea of Republicans in Congress, The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler decided to fact check these assertions today. Kessler writes, “[I]n the final presidential debate, Obama sought to toss the hot potato of sequestration — the process that is forcing those defense cuts and reductions in domestic spending — into Congress’s lap. Fortunately, there is a detailed and contemporaneous look at the debt ceiling deal that led to the current budget crunch: Bob Woodward’s ‘The Price of Politics.’ The book clearly had the full cooperation of top White House and congressional officials. With the help of our colleague, we took a tour through the relevant sections in order to determine the accuracy of the president’s statement.”

Kessler reprints the relevant portions of Woodard’s book and summarizes them: “The White House proposed the idea of a compulsory trigger, with [White House national economic council director Gene] Sperling calling it an ‘automatic sequester’ . . . . [House speaker John] Boehner was ‘nervous’ about using it as a budget tool. . . . Once tax increases were off the table, the White House staff came up with a sequestration plan that only had spending cuts and sold Harry Reid on the idea. . . . [There is a] third reference to the White House putting together the plan for sequester. Granted, they are using language from a congressional law from a quarter-century earlier [Gramm-Rudman-Hollings], but that seems a thin reed on which to say this came from Congress. In fact, Lew had been a policy advisor to then House Speaker Tip O’Neill from 1979 to 1987, and so was familiar with the law.”

Kessler concludes, “Woodward’s detailed account of meetings during the crisis, clearly based on interviews with key participants and contemporaneous notes, make it clear that sequestration was a proposal advanced and promoted by the White House. In sum: Gene Sperling brought up the idea of a sequester, while Jack Lew sold Harry Reid on the idea and then decided to use the Gramm-Hollings-Rudman language (which he knew from his days of working for Tip O’Neill) as a template for sequester. The proposal was so unusual for Republicans that staffers had to work through the night to understand it.

“Oddly, Lew in Tampa on Thursday, publicly asserted the opposite: ‘There was an insistence on the part of Republicans in Congress for there to be some automatic trigger…. [It] was very much rooted in the Republican congressional insistence that there be an automatic measure at the end.’ This prompted Woodward to go over his notes and interviews once again, to make sure he had gotten it right. ‘After reviewing all the interviews and the extensive material I have on this issue, it looks like President Obama told a whopper,’ Woodward said.  ‘Based on what Jack Lew said in Florida today, I have asked the White House to correct the record.’

“We had been wavering between Three and Four Pinocchios. But in light’s of Lew’s decision to doubledown on Obama’s claim, we agree it’s a whopper. Four Pinocchios.”

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