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Obama could in fact “win” the sequester battle for a couple of months, since the cuts will start to bite slowly. Very little will happen at the end of the week, when the deadline is reached. By March 27, when the next “fiscal cliff” deadline is reached – the end of federal budget spending authority and the possibility of a government shutdown – a sense of crisis could begin to build. And only then will the public look to Obama, as president, to solve the problem.
But doesn’t Obama risk looking as if he’s crying wolf? The White House is making dire predictions about cuts that take effect Friday, yet not much cutting will be in evidence.
“The president can easily argue that while nothing dramatic happened today, it will come in a matter of weeks, and you will see it and feel it,” says Mr. Jillson. “He can say bad things will happen because the Republicans are failing to meet him halfway.”
Another risk factor for Obama is the economy. For now, the recovery remains sluggish, unemployment is holding steady just below 8 percent, but the nation is not in recession (though preliminary numbers show the economy shrank slightly in the last quarter of 2012). One of Obama’s biggest policy weaknesses is his handling of the deficit. And according to the Pew poll, 70 percent of Americans think it is “essential” for him and Congress to pass major deficit-reduction legislation this year.
“Should the economy not improve, and the deficit numbers grow, it could be a problem for the president in the long term,” says Karlyn Bowman, an expert on polling at the American Enterprise Institute.
But for now, Ms. Bowman says, Obama is beating the Republicans in the communications game.
“He’s out there with very specific answers,” she says. “It’s the only argument out there right now, it seems to me.”
Congressional Republicans were on recess all last week, but return Monday night, and will have a chance to play catchup with their message.