Dickerson: Obama has stronger hand in sequester fight

(CBS News) With less than two weeks until automatic, deep spending cuts are set to take effect, President Obama is warning that jobs will be lost and services slashed if the cuts are allowed to kick in.

Top Republican Congressional leaders say the president is to blame if the sequester goes through as planned, and House Speaker John Boehner insisted Tuesday that "the president offered no credible plan that can pass Congress, only calls for higher taxes."

If the sequester takes effect, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts will be enacted, including $46 billion in cuts to the annual defense budget. Obama is calling fpr the closure of tax loopholes that mostly benefit the wealthy in order to get more revenue.

CBS News political John Dickerson called the Beltway fighting over the sequester "a debate about dumb cuts to a portion of the budget" and explained that "everybody agrees that they're dumb in terms of just being blunt" and pertaining to a "a portion of the budget that isn't really driving the long-term deficit problems. Those long-term costs are health care costs," Dickerson said.

Dickerson added that the fight sets a grim tone for upcoming "harder fights about long-term health care costs that are part of entitlements."

Politically speaking, "the White House thinks they have the upper hand," he said, adding, "Polling shows the president with a much better approval rating than Congress. Administration officials say the president will tour the country in advance of the March 1 deadline to make a campaign-style argument for averting budget cuts.

The GOP is attempting to "reorder the argument here," Dickerson said, in an attempt to "connect with people's fundamental feeling about the size of government, especially with tax time coming." However, he added, "So far the polling has shown president with a little stronger hand here."

However, Dickerson explained that while polling may favor President Obama, "in the long-term picture, economies tend to be talked about in presidential terms. The White House worries that this ... would really take a hit if the sequester took effect."

"Not only would the middle class be hurt," he said, "but in history's eyes, that makes the Obama economy weaker and that's not a great legacy item for this president."