Let's Play Sequester Fear Factor

The Obama administration has microtargeted its sequester warnings to appeal to very specific sets of people. Is it working?

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The White House needs you to panic over the sequester. It released detailed reports on how the automatic spending cuts hitting Friday will impact each of the 50 states Sunday night. And Monday afternoon, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano held a press conference to explain how we're all in danger of bad guys slipping through the borders and of just getting really annoyed by the long lines at the airport, both consequences of furloughed staff thanks to the sequester. The Obama administration has microtargeted its sequester warnings to appeal to very specific sets of people. The hope, we guess, is that those people will then pester House Republicans to agree to a deal to stop the sequester that has tax increases, something Republicans have sworn they won't do.

Warning: Lines at the airport will be massive! On Monday, Napolitano warned that wait times could double at the LaGuardia, Newark, and Los Angeles airports. There could be six hour delays in going through customs, she said -- adding a bit of misery to already perilous cruise vacations. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last week that the "vast majority" of Federal Aviation Administration employees will be furloughed one day per two-week pay period until the end of the year -- and maybe two days.

Target Fear Group: Business travelers, families planning spring break vacations, reporters who frequently tweet about their travel plans.

Is it working? We'll have to wait for outrage to kick in to know for sure, but judging by the massive freakout over the TSA's naked body scanners, we're inclined to think that the frequent flying demographic overlaps with the nation's influentials. And we have some anticipatory tweets: "So. Leaving for vacation on Day 1 of the potential sequester. How quickly will airport delays, etc, kick in?" The New Republic's Hillary Kelly worries.

Warning: The border will become less secure! "We're going to do everything to mitigate that threat, but the sequester makes that awfully, awfully tough," Napolitano said. Security will drop in some places. We could see a "rollback in border patrol, agent time," she said. "If you roll that back, you make [the area] between the ports of entry less secure than the record security that has been there in recent years."

Target Fear Group:  Republican lawmakers whose constituents are opposed to both immigration reform and making a deal with Obama. Maybe the former will trump the latter?

Is it working? Napolitano's comments haven't attracted much response among conservative commentators, but their commenters are noticing. And they're blaming Obama for cutting border patrol. "There you go, have to gut border guards and throw the border open even more, but lay off anyone over at Dep of Health, or Education," wrote a Free Republic poster. And the blogger at Conservative Observer AZ suggests the sequester is just an excuse. Ultimately, certain conservatives will always fear Obama more than anything else.

Warning: The Pentagon will have to delay sending an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf! The U.S. usually keeps two aircraft carriers in the Persion Gulf to act as a deterrent to Iran. But the Pentagon says the sequester has forced it to delay sending the second.

Target Fear Group: Defense hawks, people for whom Israel is a top issue.

Is it working? Yes. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol sounds apocalyptic in an op-ed posted this weekend. He writes:

The plain is darkling. The world grows more dangerous. Yet we heedlessly slash our military preparedness...

Republicans are so desperate for a “victory” over Obama that they now embrace Obama’s foolish idea, and so are willing to sacrifice national defense for minor cuts in domestic spending which will in no way fundamentally change our trajectory toward national insolvency and a nanny state.

Warning: The Pentagon will have to furlough hundreds of thousands of civilian workers! Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the "vast majority" of the Pentagon's 800,000 civilian employees would work a shortened workweek, losing 20 percent of their pay.

Target Fear Group: The troops and defense workers in Republican-held congressional districts.

Is it working? Sort of. CBS 8 in San Diego reported 30,000 local jobs were at risk, but San Diego-area Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter has said the Pentagon is picking its cuts "for the purpose of adding drama to the sequester debate." On the other hand, there's this bit of GOP 2016 contender trash talk: "If I was the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I'd probably be freaked out," Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said. And workers are clearly mad. "In 2003 I turned down a contract job that would have paid more than twice my federal salary because I thought my federal mission was important and that federal service was a noble continuation of my eight years of military service," military civilian employee Ralph Belander writes in an op-ed for Stars and Stripes. The thanks he gets? Politicians "exploiting public discontent to achieve political gain by demonizing the federal worker."

Warning: The Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service won't be able to inspect meat! Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned that the agency would have to furlough 6,000 workers and maybe close some inspection plants.

Target Fear Group: Moms, people who watch news exposes about dirty restaurants and grocery stores, people who eat spinach and remember the e. coli-related recalls, people who work in the meat industry.

Is it working? Maybe. This comes as all of Europe is in a horse meat scandal. Texas Republican Rep. Michael Conaway wrote to Vilsack asking for an explanation of the decision. "According to the American Meat Institute, furloughing FSIS inspectors is estimated to cost $10 billion in production losses to the industry," Conaway wrote. "This industry and American consumers depend on the services provided by FSIS inspectors to ensure a safe and healthy food supply."

Correction: This post originally said the Food and Drug Administration inspects meat. It's actually a different division of the Agriculture Department, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, that inspects meat.

(Photos via Associated Press.)

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