Sequester Showdown

Will the Democrats or G.O.P. win the sequester showdown? Here's a scorecard for watching the machinations over the coming month.

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Charles Dharapak / AP

We are facing a moment in Washington. Both Republicans and Democrats have decided, in poker lingo, to go all-in on the same hand, the looming set of mandatory across-the-board cuts known as the sequester. Both sides agree it is bad policy, which will be unnecessarily harmful to the economy, and both believe this bad policy once enacted in all of its ugliness will be politically beneficial to their team. Both cannot be right.

As it happens, these moments do not come along all that often. Most beltway theatrics are bluffs followed by folds. Someone gives a speech, calls for some reform, and then lets it die on the vine. Someone else expresses outrage, muscles an investigation, and it fizzles out. Republicans hold the debt ceiling hostage, and Obama agrees to deal of spending cuts with elaborate conditions. (Indeed this was how the sequester was created in the first place.) Obama threatens tax increases on all Americans, and Republicans give him tax increases on some of the rich ones.

For those tired of the constant talk of crises in Washington, be aware that this time is different. The chances of an 11th hour fix are incredibly small, in part because the stakes are lower than the last several showdowns. Even after the sequester is triggered, it’s impact will not be immediately traumatic and these effects will be easily reversible when the White House and Congressional Republicans cut a deal to replace the cuts with more sensible ways to address the deficit. But the longer it takes for a deal to be cut, the more the pain, especially if the squabbling stretches from weeks into months and is joined by the sequester’s dysfunctional doppleganger, a late March failure to agree on a new budget, which could force a government shutdown of non-essential federal services. Economic confidence is likely to be sapped. GDP could take a haircut. Unemployment will go up. Government employees will be furloughed, or might lose their jobs. Government services may be reduced, and military readiness could be sacrificed.

(VIDEO: Democrats Release Sequester Hit List With 27 GOP Targets)

So the nation is likely to lose. The unanswered question is who will come out of the process politically ahead, or losing less. So for those watching at home, sit back and try to restrain your rage. Here is a quick scorecard for watching the machinations over the coming month.

National Sentiment

The White House walks into the sequester with an unmistakable advantage in the polls, and a conviction that it has the upper hand. Obama’s approval is at three years highs, in the mid-50s, while House Republicans continue to tread water in the teens. His call for a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts to replace the sequester is favored three to one over Republican calls to only have more cuts. (In a recent Pew Poll for USA Today, even a majority of Republicans favor a balanced approach.) By a margin of 49% to 31% in the Pew Poll, Americans are prepared to blame Congressional Republicans over President Obama if the sequester goes into effect. Perhaps most importantly, the public continues to believe—by a margin of 49 to 44 in a recent Bloomberg poll–that Obama’s plan for more short term investment in education, energy and infrastructure has a better chance of creating jobs than the Republican calls for more spending cuts and lower taxes. Advantage: Obama

Electoral Jeopardy

Congressional Republican leaders, meanwhile, are telling themselves that the national polls don’t matter. Republicans kept control of the House in 2012, despite a huge turnout of Obama voters, and 2014 is almost certain to be more friendly terrain, given the fact that Obama will not be on the ballot. As electoral odds-maker Charlie Cook recently pointed out, the number of genuinely up-for-grabs Congressional seats has been dwindling steadily for a decade, meaning most Republicans in Congress simply don’t have to worry about the national numbers. Their fortunes back home may in fact be far more dependent on bucking the political winds. That means that Republicans can, for the moment, may not have to worry about the short term hit they take as long as they can make the case in 2014 that the President was more responsible for whatever mess the country finds itself in at that point. Advantage: Congressional Republicans

Framing the Debate

Republicans are, of course, killing the messaging war on conservative talk radio, but that only goes so far. President Obama can still command a megaphone that none of them can muster, and he has a credibility with a broader swath of the American people. On Monday, Obama appeared at the White House with first responders he said would be hurt by the cuts, and Speaker John Boehner was forced to respond with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. In the coming weeks, White House aides are promising a full court press, with Presidential travel and lots of photo ops and outrage, to seek to define the still poorly understood sequester in the public mind. If it is seen as hurting core government functions, like education funding, food safety and military readiness, pressure will grow on Republicans to cave. But if Republicans can frame the sequesters as an antidote to the government waste, like video game research studies, and free cell phones, that most Americans suspect is rampant, their hand will be strengthened. History suggests that President has a distinct advantage on this one. Advantage: President Obama.

The Do-Nothing Scenario

History also tells us that when it comes to these sort of showdowns, the legal playing field matters a great deal. Twice in recent years, Obama has forced Republicans to blink, first by pushing through a continuation of a payroll tax cut without other spending cuts, and second by pushing for an increase in marginal tax rates for the wealthy when the Bush Tax Cuts were set to expire. In both cases, if Congress did not act, taxes would have gone up, something Republicans hate seeing happen. So they were forced to deal. In this case, however, the do-nothing scenario forces spending cuts, albeit badly designed ones, which Capitol Hill Republicans believe puts Obama naturally on defense. It tends to matter, in other words, whose hostage you are threatening to shoot in governing, and on this score, Republicans have a clear incentive to sit on their hands, even as they continue to argue that the actual cuts involved in the sequester are bad for America. Advantage: Congressional Republicans

Tally

Just because I scored this two-to-two does not mean this is an even fight. Talking to Republicans and Democrats drafting strategy, there is a clear difference in morale. Republicans are fighting a battle they never wanted to be fighting, with little momentum, a smaller soap box and the most fragile unity within their own caucus. Obama and the Democrats, by contrast, feel ascendent, buttressed by high polls and a recent ballot box win, and are ready to mark what they will believe to be the next body blow to the Republican no-new-taxes-ever vision of shrink-the-beast governing. That said, nothing is certain, and eventually, whether it be four days, four months, or a couple years from now, someone will have to blink. Anyone still could.

VIDEO: The Sequester Fight: TIME Explains

501 comments
elcidharth
elcidharth

SiDevilIam Guess who's coming (sexual pun intended) to dinner, Oops, sexter, Oops, sequester, Boehner or Barack? 
 
or·gasm (ôrgzm) 
n. 
1. The peak of sexual excitement, characterized by strong feelings of pleasure and by a series of involuntary contractions of the muscles of the genitals, usually accompanied by the ejaculation of semen by the male. Also called climax. 
2. A similar point of intensity of emotional excitement. 
 
...and I am Sid Harth@elcidharth.com

roknsteve
roknsteve

Paulie is running for Pope.  He gets to act like a fairy and wear a funny hat.

fitty_three
fitty_three

paulejb is like an extremely nasty incurable disease.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

It's worth remembering that paulie's reaction to the original debt ceiling crisis was equally insane.

SiegfriedHeydrich
SiegfriedHeydrich

The Republican party has ceased any pretense at governance, and their entire agenda has been reduced to a single sentence: To oppose President Obama in all things, at all times, in all ways, and seek ruin which can be blamed upon him. That was their agenda during his first term, thinking that if they kept the economy depressed and the people in pain, it would result in his defeat. But the American people saw through this and as a result the GOP lost the race for the White House, as well as losing seats in both the House and Senate.

Had it not been for carefully gerrymandered, protected districts, they would have lost control of the House as well. And Representatives from those districts are unconcerned with the nation, only interested in avoiding a primary challenge which would result were they to cooperate with the President in any way.

President Obama has made repeated efforts to come to a deal with the GOP, to no avail. He has placed on the table issues which infuriate his base, to no avail. He has offered 4 to 1 cuts in spending to revenue increases, to no avail.

This is not politics, this is religion. The GOP is on a crusade against the person they regard as an usurper and tyrant. If you look at any of the conservative web sites, the levels of hatred and rage expressed there reveals why there is gridlock. Seriously, I would recommend people to visit sites like WND, Breitbart, or TownHall and read the comment threads, and you will understand why the GOP is paralyzed.

paulejb
paulejb

@53_3 ,

Observe 53's posts above to see that he is in serious denial. 53 is what can be described as a no information liberal as opposed to the regular low information liberals.

paulejb
paulejb

@PaulDirks ,

Centsless!

2.3 cents cut from every dollar. Barack Obama says that we are all gonna die and low information liberals head for the exits.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@PaulDirks Is there anyone here who doesn't know what he's going to post before he does? So dearily predictable. 

roknsteve
roknsteve

@53_3 I want it to happen so people will see how phony and plastic they are in reality.

roknsteve
roknsteve

@SiegfriedHeydrich And it's all because he's half white just like half the people in the South.  No DNA test required.

WilliamHugelmeyer
WilliamHugelmeyer

@SiegfriedHeydrich

Thank God republicans didn't loose the house or the Dear Leader Obama would of had us bankrupted by now. If The Dear Leader wanted legislation passed he could of if he did kill every bill with a dictatorship demand. Like every piece of paper out of Washington, the Devil is in the Details and that's what stops any progress because everyone just has to throw crap in the game on both sides.

CTnerd
CTnerd

@paulejb Have you actually read any of the information about the cuts? They are not specifically targeted, but across the board - that's the way Congress planned them. The President does not have any control over the legislation that Congress wrote and passed - he just respected their decision in this manner and signed the bill that Congress sent him.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@paulejb You mean like gutting the social safety nets? No Troll that is the Republican forte.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@paulejb @53_3 They're very effective caricatures of you, paulejb.

Not to mention that you're a slot for the race card.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@WilliamHugelmeyer Dear Leader? Libtard? Why do you act like a spoiled 8 year old that mistakenly wandered into an adult conversation and desperately wants attention?

paulejb
paulejb

@CTnerd @paulejb ,

You mean the bill that he proposed and signed and then vowed to veto any change. That bill, CT?

JoeKidd
JoeKidd

@mantisdragon91 @paulejb Mantisdragon91, The President took 500 billion from Medicare with his healthcare plan. Just lopping 500 billion off the top is not "saving" money.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@WilliamHugelmeyer Where exactly am I cursing? More importantly how much does the Democratic party pay you to act like a bad stereotype of an irrational Right Winger?

WilliamHugelmeyer
WilliamHugelmeyer

@mantisdragon91 @WilliamHugelmeyer

What's wrong with you? Are you the word Nazi or something??? You're the one cursing on my postings with nothing to say and now you got the balls to call me an 8 year old.....

You are a Libtard! What...did someone screw up your Latte this morning or are you always miserable?

La_Randy
La_Randy

@paulejb @CTnerd The bill was proposed as ransom to republicans during their debt ceiling hostage taking in 2011.

A mistake to be sure, the President should have let them crash the economy then.

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

Yes, he proposed an agreement that any rational people would never let happen but there isn't one rational Republican left in Washington.  The first cut in TSA should be the special lane for government and diplomats at National and Dulles and leave one TSA checker per shift so the congress critters will have a chance to personally meet the people they are screwing.  Also, close the House and Senate cafeterias and let them go and buy food which will go up as meat plants can not operate without government inspectors.  Let Walmart's good hang up on the ships since there won't be the Customs people around to handle them, regardless of whether they use a US or a Mexican port. It takes momney to run a country so teh rich can make their money and it is time that teh rich suffer a little also.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@JoeKidd @mantisdragon91 @paulejb Of course it does. But as I said before one has to start somewhere. If we serve notice to all the companies that make money of Medicare and Medicaid that Fraud will be aggressively prosecuted that will go a long way towards containing costs and helping to reduce our overall health care spending

JoeKidd
JoeKidd

@mantisdragon91 @JoeKidd @paulejb Are you serious? The John Corzine episode proves that if you know the President, you will not be prosecuted. That serves to encourage some to commit fraud.

JoeKidd
JoeKidd

@mantisdragon91 @JoeKidd @paulejb No, he didn't. He took 500 billion off the top. All doctors and hospitals have been informed that the reimbursement rate would be less.


A 19 million dollar raid is not 500 billion.