Losing On Purpose
Ezra Klein explains
Recall the Democrats’ original theory of the case: Sequestration was supposed to be so threatening that Republicans would agree to a budget deal that included tax increases rather than permit it to happen. That theory was wrong. The follow-up theory was that the actual pain caused by sequestration would be so great that it would, in a matter of months, push the two sides to agree to a deal. Democrats just proved that theory wrong, too.
In effect, what Democrats said Friday was that in any case where the political pain caused by sequestration becomes unbearable, they will agree to cancel that particular piece of the bill while leaving the rest of the law untouched. The result is that sequestration is no longer particularly politically threatening, but it’s even more unbalanced: Cuts to programs used by the politically powerful will be addressed, but cuts to programs that affects the politically powerless will persist. It’s worth saying this clearly: The pain of sequestration will be concentrated on those who lack political power.
Democrats had other choices, of course. As Politico’s Glenn Thrush pointed out on MSNBC Friday, President Obama could’ve vetoed the FAA bill while standing at a Head Start that’s about to throw needy children out of the program. He could’ve vetoed it from the home of an jobless worker who just saw her benefits cut. Democrats could simply have insisted that the powerful can’t get out of sequestration unless the powerless can, too. But they didn’t — and they show no signs that they’ll start.
But that’s game, then. Absent the willingness to accept the pain of sequestration and use it to overturn the whole policy, Democrats have no leverage to end it.
It is worth noting how different the Democrats’ approach to sequestration has been to the GOP’s approach to, well, everything. Over the past five years, Republicans have repeatedly accepted short-term political pain to win the leverage necessary for long-term policy gain. That’s the governing political principle behind their threats to shut down the government, breach the debt ceiling, and, for that matter, accept sequestration. Today, Democrats showed they’re not willing to accept even a bit of short-term pain for leverage on sequestration. They played a game of chicken with the Republicans, and they lost. Badly.
Klein gets only one thing slightly wrong. Democrats played a game of chicken with the Republicans and lost. Badly. President Obama was playing a different game- and, like the GOP, won. President Obama sees the chess board two steps ahead of Democrats and one step ahead of Republicans and that these are cuts he's rather comfortable with. Recall Klein noting
Politico’s Glenn Thrush pointed out on MSNBC Friday, President Obama could’ve vetoed the FAA bill while standing at a Head Start that’s about to throw needy children out of the program. He could’ve vetoed it from the home of an jobless worker who just saw her benefits cut. Democrats could simply have insisted that the powerful can’t get out of sequestration unless the powerless can, too. But they didn’t.
Oh, if only the Democrats had a leader well-spoken, eloquent, and charismatic with the power of the bully pulpit. The President is the nation's one official who commands the nation's attention, is popularly elected by all the people (except the Vice-President, who is pulled in by the presidential candidate), and represents everyone. And this president, with his extraordinary gifts of discourse, not only refused to veto the bill, but has remained silent.
Relatively silent, that is. Politico reports
the administration is firmly against piecemeal fixes to other impacts of sequester cuts, press secretary Jay Carney said Friday.
"This is a one-off case, if you will," he said, adding "the sequester itself cannot be finessed. It is having negative consequences around the country."
Carney argued the FAA fix, which was passed by Congress Friday, was doable because the funds were available to head off the need for FAA furloughs.
"The fact is it’s a drop in the bucket, it’s a Band-aid over -- I think it's kind of a gross metaphor – but a big wound," he said. "The fact is this is a small amount of funding compared to the overall sequester. It's $253 million. There was an ability because of unobligated funds available that could be transferred."
Now that the President has given the GOP something it wants- an FAA fix- he says the sequester "cannot be finessed." Not only will he make a concession to the party which has made it a mission never to cooperate with him, he'll ask for nothing in return.
In his weekly address this morning, President Obama argued "There is only one way to truly fix the sequester: by replacing it before it causes further damage.
Well, of course, he wants to end the sequester- and replace it with something more appealing to the GOP. Earlier this month, Joshua Green had written
Although the White House doesn’t advertise this fact in the six-page budget overview it put out this morning, the new budget eliminates nearly all of the cuts that sequestration imposes on the Pentagon. Instead of $500 billion in cuts, Obama proposes only $100 billion, and you have to look closely to spot it (“$200 billion in additional discretionary savings, with equal amounts from defense and nondefense programs”).
The President is intent to get most Democrats to believe that his wish to end the sequester is akin to their interest, ending such cuts as to Head Start, food pantries, cancer treatment for Medicare patients, and stemming job losses and furloughs. It's a tough sell, but never underestimate the ability of the nation's first black President to convince progressives he's on their side.