Sunday, August 04, 2013

The happiest wrong I could ever be

I am on vacation from from vacation so to speak, in the Catskills in the rain, inspired by the legislative news and willing to brave this horrific Samsung phone keyboard to get a brief thought down [couldn't do it - finishing the half-baked thought at home, 8/4]. What if the narrative I've invested myself in all year is wrong? That is, that Obama blew his point of maximum leverage at the fiscal cliff and locked us into the sequester, gravely hindering his long-term agenda? Could it be that Republicans will this year choke over sequestration and wriggle out by one means or another?

The logic of the sequester was that Republicans would not be able to stomach the defense cuts. That may be, and it may also prove that they can't stomach the mandated domestic cuts either -- at least not if they try, Ryan-style, to cover restored defense spending with still more cuts to domestic programs and department budgets.

I suspect that we're in for mini-crises and partial patches -- short-term spending bills that suspend selected segments of the sequester. If enough holes are punched, perhaps the whole thing will fall apart, and Congress will revert to budgeting yearly in accordance with perceived needs, perhaps adhering to the 2011 Budget Control Act caps exclusive of the sequester.

If so -- if the sequester erodes relatively quickly without a catastrophe like debt default -- then it may appear in retrospect that Obama was right not to force a crisis at the fiscal cliff. Of course, the counterfactual will always remain unknowable -- whether Obama and the Democrats in early 2013 could have in reasonable time driven a settlement close to Obama's late-December ask.

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