When Democrats voted last Friday to jigger the rules of sequestration to allow the FAA to ease flight delays, the conviction took hold on the left that Democrats have lost on sequestration, as Ezra Klein declared. If that's true, it means that the budget battle that began when Republicans retook the House is over, and Republicans have won. The ten-year vice grip on discretionary spending is closing. Since spring 2011, Obama has agreed to some $3 trillion in spending cuts over ten years, while securing just $600 billion in new revenue.
You could say no one has won -- Klein again -- as Republicans have failed to cut entitlements and acceded (so far) to huge defense cuts. But they've achieved their more nihilist (and perhaps dominant) ends -- foreclosing on the kinds of long-term investments Obama has urged throughout his presidency, and crimping the economic recovery for which Obama would get the principal credit.
For progressive writers, realization has dawned in agonizing stages. I'm reminded a bit of George Orwell's account of "a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed œsophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him.”
Progressives have consistently underestimated the capacity of Obama and the Democrats to fold -- at the fiscal cliff, at the passage of continuing resolutions implementing the first tranche of the sequester through FY 2013, and at the FAA kerfuffle. Let's flash back a bit and watch awareness unfold, first that Republicans were going to focus their efforts on sequestration, then that they were going to let it happen, and then that they could induce Democrats to help cram the budget into the sequestration strait jacket.