Have you heard about the sequester? It's coming up very soon, and it's going to be bad. Unless it isn't! No one is really sure yet, but it's definitely someone's fault for not doing something about it. With just a few days left before the deadline that may or may not be the deadline that really matters, both sides are talking about how the other side needs to stop talking and make with the first people who are talking already.

We understand it's all very confusing, but if you take a look at all the spin and talking points and (occasional) actual analysis that's come out in the last day or so, a few themes start to emerge. If you plan on talking about the sequester today, we advise going with one of these strategies.

Blame the Other Guy

President Obama on Monday chastised Congress for “careening from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis” and tried to blame lawmakers for the spending cuts due to take a bite out of agency budgets on Friday.

Obama: Congress could turn off cuts with compromise — Los Angeles Times

“This is not time for a road-show president,” Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) said at a news conference with other House Republicans. “This is time to look for someone who will lead and work with us, because we’re willing to work with them to solve America’s problems.”

GOP pushes back on Obama sequester warnings, says he should seek deal — The Washington Post

Pretend The Republicans (Or You) Are Secretly Delighted

After months of fretting over the harmful effects of sequestration, as the automatic cuts are called, House Republicans have belatedly embraced the realization that if they do nothing at all, they will be rewarded on Friday with a 2.5 percent cut in all federal spending without coughing up a single dollar in tax increases. They have learned to stop worrying and love the sequester.

President Obama is barnstorming the country, calling for tax increases and alternative spending cuts to replace the automatic ones. But while Republicans say they’d consider a different blend of reductions, they’d rather have the sequester than another deal like the one in December that raised taxes.

"House Republicans are over the moon about sequestration" — Dana Milbank, The Washington Post

The White House strategy on the sequester was built around a familiar miscalculation about Republicans. It assumed that, in the end, they would be reasonable and negotiate a realistic alternative to indiscriminate cuts. Because the reductions hurt defense programs long held sacrosanct by Republicans, the White House thought it had leverage that would reduce the damage to the domestic programs favored by Democrats.

It turns out, though, that the defense hawks in the party are outnumbered. More Republicans seem to care about reducing spending at all costs, and the prospect of damaging vital government programs does not seem to bother them.

States Get the Bad News About the Sequester — editorial board, The New York Times

I no longer believe the sky is falling.

I have lived through America’s past disasters: Vietnam. Watergate. Disco.

We survived them all. We have grown strong at the broken places.

But now the pols have come up with a new word to panic us: sequester.

It is supposed to scare us witless. But, in truth, hearing a politician tell us, “We are heading toward sequester” is really no scarier than hearing the words, “I don’t like the looks of that mole” or “Welcome to Carnival Cruise Lines.”

The sequester was designed to be so horrible that both the Republicans and Democrats in Congress would recoil from it.

Sequestration? Bring It On — Roger Simon, Politico

Scare People!

The GAO said that the Defense Department “is one of the few federal entities that cannot accurately account for its spending or assets.” The report added, “Without accurate, timely, and useful financial information, DOD is severely hampered in making sound decisions affecting its operations.”

Fiscal nightmare looms at 'bloated' Pentagon — NBC Politics

Stop Scaring People!

"We're not making this up in order to put pain on the American people," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on NBC's "Meet the Press."

[...]

"Shame on Ray LaHood," Arizona Sen. John McCain declared on CNN's "State of the Union."

Transportation chief defends sounding alarm on cuts — First Read

Turn to the Polls

Across party lines, most people expect that the sequester cuts will have a "mostly negative" effect on the economy — 62 percent thought so. And by a 45-32 margin, respondents to the poll said they would blame Congressional Republicans over Obama.

Sequester Poll: Obama Has Upper Hand — Business Insider

But the president should be careful. The same poll found 70 percent of Americans agreeing that major legislation to reduce the federal budget deficit is essential this year. And the American people are not fools. They will no doubt soon see through Obama's empty rhetoric on deficit reduction.

Obama antics don't cut it — Lancaster New Era

Not only are most people paying very little attention to the sequester, they also have only the faintest sense of what it would do. Less than one in five (18 percent) say they understand “very well” what would happen if the sequester went into effect in the Post-Pew poll.

The sequester? Never heard of it — The Washington Post

Worry That John Bohener's Is Gambling Everything

Leading Republicans are betting — perhaps badly — that the $85 billion in sequester cuts set to take effect on Friday won’t tank markets and the public won’t immediately feel the impact.

And, for once, the GOP is buffeted by its unpopularity: House Republicans kept their majority with mid-teen approval ratings after two years of political warfare. They aren’t spooked that their numbers will move any lower.

So Boehner’s posture is a calculated risk. The speaker hopes Obama will be seen as constantly campaigning, exaggerating the sequester’s impact — and that eventually the president will be forced back to the bargaining table when the Republicans prove they won’t budge. It’s a message Boehner will take to the “CBS Evening News” on Tuesday, when he is interviewed by Scott Pelley.

John Boehner's big bet — Jake Sherman, Politico

"If you cave and delay, then absolutely he could lose his speakership," [Sen. Ron] Johnson said.

Ron Johnson On Sequester: Boehner Would Lose Speaker If Taxes Increased — Business Insider

Worry That Barack Obama Is "Overplaying His Hand"

He will divide, isolate and defeat Republicans using all the powers of his office and all his skills as a political campaigner. As Americans grow frustrated with the cuts, Republicans will reject their party’s no-tax mantra and demand that Congress end the standoff, even if it means raising some new revenue – just the way Obama is demanding.

 

Except that message could cut both ways.

What if the public agrees that yes, there is a lot of pain and suffering – and turns to Obama wondering, why didn’t you do more to prevent it? That’s what makes some Democrats nervous about the White House’s supreme level of confidence.

President Obama’s sequester strategy: Divide and conquer — Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico

The question is whether the White House is overplaying its hand. Yes, Mr. Obama got the better of Republicans in the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations and last year's fiscal cliff deal. But are things different this time? Republicans feel that the president has been negotiating in bad faith, pocketing their concessions on tax hikes and spending and then asking for more. And more so than in previous recent showdowns, the GOP leadership seems resolved to stand its ground this time.

Is Obama Overconfident? — The Wall Street Journal

Pretend It's Not As Bad As It Sounds

Despite the urgent rhetoric, there was no indication the White House and congressional Republicans were actively negotiating a deal to avoid the so-called sequester ahead of the end of the week deadline. The last known conversation between Obama and GOP leaders was last week and there have been no in-person meetings between the parties this year.

With Congress back from a weeklong recess, House Speaker John Boehner showed little willingness to move off his long-held position that the sequester be offset through targeted spending cuts, not the package of cuts and tax increases Obama supports.

Federal budget cuts may not hit area hard — Recorderonline.com

A closer read of the detailed reports shows that some of the scariest stuff is going to happen in slow motion — if it happens at all.

That’s not to say that anyone thinks the sequester is good policy or that it will be harmless. But the dramatic predictions about long lines at airports and the loss of special education funding involve some large assumptions.

Is President Obama telling the truth about sequestration? — David Nather, Politico

Rep. John Campbell (R-Irvine) contends that critics of the cuts are exaggerating the effects. "If we can't do this, what can we do" to reduce Washington's red ink, he asked. "We ought to be panicked about the day when people won't buy our debt anymore because we borrowed too much."

California braces for impending cuts from federal sequestration — Los Angeles Times

On Second Thought, It's Actually Pretty Terrible

Favoring the president's view, [Lawrence] Summers said the goal should be to replace the "meat cleaver approach" of the across-the-board spending cuts of the sequester. "This should be brought to a conclusion. It should be brought to a conclusion with balance. That means doing things on the spending side. That means doing things on the revenue side."

Sequestration 'Meat Cleaver' Is Irresponsible - Lawrence Summers — CNBC

Some of our colleagues think sequestration is inevitable. Others actually think it's a good idea. We disagree. We've been working to replace sequestration in a balanced and bipartisan way for the past year, and the only reason we haven't gotten a deal is because Republicans have insisted on protecting tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. We believe there is still a path to agreement -- but it is going to require true compromise from both sides.

Sen. Patty Murray: Another Way Forward — The Huffington Post

Blame The Republicans, Then Blame Obama for Not Cleaning Up Their Mess

We’re now seeing a third technique appear: Acknowledge that Republicans are the uncompromising party, but assert that it’s ultimately on the President to figure out a way to either force Republicans to drop their intransigence or to otherwise “lead” them out if it.

The false equivalence pundits are part of the problem — The Washington Post

My dream Obama would take advantage of the fact that only the president can fundamentally shift the terms. He’d take advantage of George Santayana’s observation that Americans don’t solve their problems; they leave them behind.

My dream Obama would abandon the big government versus small government argument. He’d point out that in a mature, aging society, government isn’t going anywhere. The issue is not size but sclerosis.

Our Second Adolescence — David Brooks, The New York Times

Forget The Sequester: You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

While President Barack Obama warns of the dire economic impact from across-the-board budget cuts, the nation may face more serious fiscal debates in the months ahead on a potential government shutdown and renegotiation of the debt ceiling.

Obama Warnings on Cuts Obscure Next Threats — Businessweek