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Saturday, March 16, 2013

The counter-scenario: Republicans cave on sequestration

Since January, I have periodically vented my mounting frustration over the apparent fact that Obama, by yielding at the pressure points of the debt ceiling on Aug. 1, 2011 and the fiscal cliff on Jan. 1, 2013, effectively inflicted the sequestration cuts on the country.

For the record, I am inclined by character toward regret and self-reproach, which I'm arguably projecting onto Obama. There is always the possibility that his chosen pressure point, the pain imposed by the sequestration that the Republicans have learned to love, will work.  A few days ago, I cited a Times article by Robert Pear about the rising chorus of lobbyist lamentation over the cuts as evidence of the long-term damage the sequester will inflict. The article could also be read, however (and in fact more or less asked to be read), as evidence that the lobbying pressure will at some point prove irresistible to the GOP:

Construction companies are lobbying the government to spare their projects from across-the-board cuts. Drug companies are pleading with the White House to use all the fees they pay to speed the approval of new medicines.

And supporters of Israel have begun a campaign to make sure the Jewish state receives the full amount of military assistance promised by the United States. 

A frenzy of lobbying has been touched off by President Obama’s order to slice spending this year by $85 billion, divided equally between military and civilian programs. The cuts have created new alliances and strange bedfellows.
One scenario is that appropriations for the remainder of FY 2013 are passed with relatively fuss, preserving a 2011 baseline with sequestration cuts imposed underneath that (as Brian Beutler has explained), and over the course of the ensuing six months the howls of sequestration pain lead the Republicans toward some kind of face-saving deal. Another scenario, which Beutler also reminds us not to discount, is that the stated wish of both sides to avoid confrontation before current appropriations run out on March 27 will evaporate as short-term negotiations blow up -- and a showdown will be kicked off on March 27 with a government shutdown. 

So I take my own lamentations with a grain of salt. It does look to me as if Obama was better positioned to demand the tax revenue we need -- and so complete a deal to offset the sequester in a balanced way -- when the Bush tax cuts expired. After two years of holding our collective breath while the budget wars played out, missing that moment where the balance of forces seemed tilted toward a progressive victory of sorts (actually just a prevention of deep budgetary damage) is very painful. But with the can kicked once more, it remains possible that Obama's chosen sequence of battle will yield a marginally acceptable outcome.

It is very hard for me to imagine the current GOP agreeing to more revenue, however. And their current stated intention to inflict more cuts as a condition of raising the debt ceiling does not bode well.  Nor does it seem to me that Obama can ultimately win by repeatedly ceding ground and stating his unwillingness to inflict short-term economic pain to face the Republicans down. I've got that Obama's sliding feeling with a vengeance. May the event prove me wrong.

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