During Monday night's debate in Boca Raton, President Obama said "it will not happen," which is certainly what he and most — if not all — members of Congress hope for, but it remains to be seen if a deal can come to pass.
The president's media team began walking back the comment immediately after the debate, and some Democrats worry that he has lost leverage in the lame-duck by taking the threat of massive defense cuts off the board. (In a continuation of the discussion from last year, the president wants to mix tax cuts with spending cuts to help reduce the deficit, which Congressional Republicans have resisted.)
Naturally, Republicans pounced. On Tuesday, in a South Tampa campaign appearance with Senate candidate Connie Mack, as well as in repeated media interviews, John McCain made it clear that he was flabbergasted by President Obama's comment.
"Did you see what the President of the United States said last night?" he asked the partisan crowd. "He said it won't happen. Well since when does he decide that? It was a law. He's not a dictator! So, my friends, the President of the United States, who has not lifted a finger to try to prevent sequester, which is two months away ... but don't worry, it won't happen. It wasn't Congress' idea, it was his idea, it came from the White House!"
Then he said, "We will stop the sequester."
So his problem with Obama is not the sentiment he expressed, but that he said it with such conviction?
Apparently, they're both on the same page. You might remember McCain visited Tampa and other swing states back in August along with fellow GOP Senators Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte to express concern about the impending defense cuts.
But what McCain didn't say then or in August is that he voted for sequestration, also known by its official title: the Budget Control Act.
The Budget Control Act raised the debt ceiling and tasked a super committee with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, with the caveat that if it failed, an across-the-board cut would hit both defense and domestic spending. That's exactly what ended up happening, and it was a bipartisan failure.
As to where the idea came from to include defense, President Obama has laid the blame on Congress. But that isn't accurate, according to ace Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who documented the experience in Congress in his recently published book, The Price of Politics.
As Woodward tells Politico, sequestration was never supposed to happen.
"No one thought it would happen. The idea was to design something … that was so onerous that no one would ever let it happen. Of course, it did, because they couldn’t reach agreement,” he said. “They all believed that the supercommittee was going to come up with a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction plan, so there would be no sequestration. Of course, the supercommittee failed and so the trigger went off, which has all of these very Draconian cuts."
(The Tampa Tribune's William March reports that the White House is denying Woodward's account).
Sen. McCain knows this, but why miss an opportunity to blast the president for his debate comment in a too close-to-call election?
McCain went on to say that Obama "must know that this is a law and the President of the United States cannot reverse it without Congress reversing it as well. So he said a lot of misleading things ... for him to tell the American people it's not going to happen. It is going to happen unless the president sits down with members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, and do something he hasn't done his whole presidency, and that is sit down with those of us across the aisle and avert this devastating, impending blow to our nation's security."