To say that the meeting between congressional leaders and President Barack Obama was unproductive might be an understatement.
And as the meeting wrapped up, a new reality began to take hold: The sequester may be here to stay…
“There will be no last-minute, backroom deal and absolutely no agreement to increase taxes,” McConnell said in a statement, adding that he was “happy” to discuss other options to reduce spending.
“Everything hits the fan on April 1,” said Scott Lilly, former Democratic staff director to the House Appropriations Committee.
This is when the furlough notices start turning into reality, and when many of the Cabinet secretaries say the effects will become most obvious to the public.
Airport shutdowns and flight cancellations are expected to start in April as airlines digest the full effect of $644 million in cuts to air traffic controllers and other essential operations, according to testimony from FAA Administrator Michael Huerta…
Tax time is never fun, but April 15 could be even more of a slog as millions of Americans phoning the IRS for help with their returns don’t get a call back. Refund checks are also likely to be sent out later than normal while tax cheaters face off against a depleted IRS enforcement team.
“The sequester is not a good idea. The reality is it’s a terrible idea. As an appropriator, it’s even more terrible to us than to normal people,” said Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.), who oversees homeland security spending on the House Appropriations Committee. Carter’s central Texas district is home to Fort Hood, one of the nation’s largest military bases, and its economy is heavily dependent on government spending.
“But if we don’t face up to these things and lead on this issue, what’s the panic going to look like when we start seeing our entitlement programs collapse around our ears?” Carter said. “It’s hard. But doing the hard thing is the definition of leadership. As Harry Truman said, ‘The buck stops here.’ ”
While lawmakers in Washington trade shots over the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, due to take effect Friday, there’s a growing consensus among liberals across the country that the real threat to the social safety net isn’t this fight, but the next one…
“There’s a broader concern about the fact that entitlements may get ensnared when we go to an alternative fix, [that] they won’t escape,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, a progressive Democrat from New York, told BuzzFeed. “I have heard that concern.”…
“There’s no need to replace the sequester in full or in part. We don’t need it,” said Kelly Ross, deputy policy director of AFL-CIO. “Republicans are saying we need to address the source of the problem as leverage to get entitlement cuts.”
“The worry is that Republicans have been very clear what they want from this — and that’s entitlement reform,” said Ross. “That’s what they hope to get out of it, while they’re saying no to taxes. Both sides are crying uncle.”
“I think the sequester argument is extremely useful because it’s very educational for the American public,” Will said. “When the Obama administration increases on average 17 percent the budgets of the domestic agencies that are now facing a 5 percent cut, and they say this is intolerable, they reveal that the basic position of liberalism is this — whatever the size of the government is at any moment, it’s the bare minimum standing between us and chaos and misery, which just strikes the American people as facially preposterous. I mean, if you turned to any American family and said, ‘Could you find 2.3 percent savings?’ They would say, ‘Of course, we can do it by noon.’ So I think that the president at long last has so gone over the top in his rhetoric that he’s even losing the mainstream media here.”…
“Never mind entitlements, they don’t want to cut anything,” Will said. “They have a kind of a Brezhnev Doctrine. You remember that Brezhnev said wherever socialism is planted, it shall never retreat from spot? Wherever the government is, it shall never retreat. This is their Brezhnev Doctrine for domestic American politics.”
Yet by refusing to consider more revenue in any future budget deal, House Republicans are precluding a bargain with Obama that tames entitlements. It’s true that the president, buoyed by reelection, has rescinded entitlement-reform offers he considered during the debt-ceiling standoff in 2011—and that his tactical mistake in January of extending the bulk of the Bush tax cuts has complicated the politics by forcing him to ask Republicans to vote to raise taxes a second time. But if the GOP advanced a plan balanced between entitlement reforms and revenues, similar to the construct that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., floated this week, Obama would face enormous, probably irresistible, pressure to bend. Just as in the 2011 standoff, Republicans are underestimating the value of a Democratic president willing to provide a heat shield for entitlement reductions that would face initial public resistance…
Yet some prominent Democratic economists privately worry that the White House is winning battles and losing the war. In 2008 and 2012, Obama assembled a growing coalition of young people, minorities, and college-educated white women—a “coalition of the ascendant” that could provide his party a lasting advantage in presidential elections if it holds together.
But nothing will strain that coalition more than a recovery too tepid to provide greater opportunity, especially for hard-hit young people, African-Americans, and Hispanics. A Pew Research Center survey last week found that while Obama’s coalition was largely united behind his policies, it remained divided on his performance, with only about half of Hispanics and two-fifths of young adults approving of his handling of the economy. That’s why one senior White House adviser says that even though issues such as immigration and guns are dominating attention, the economy’s performance will matter most in shaping Obama’s political legacy. “If we do not focus on completing the middle-class project that he started,” the aide said, “then nothing else we do matters.”
And here’s where the capital’s budget battles fold into one another, like evil Russian nesting dolls. One of the reasons many Tea Party Republicans considered the implementation of the sequester a “home run,” as Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo put it, is it locks in federal outlays at a lower level, trimming the budget back to its George W. Bush-era totals. That’s a modest but hard-won victory for a party that has long sought to rein in government spending. Now that sequestration is law, the GOP gains the same kind of political advantage that Democrats possessed during the fiscal cliff fight, when taxes were set to go up with no further action.
As soon as next week, House GOP appropriators will introduce a continuing resolution which would include special protections for defense programs but not raise total spending. Republicans say they are open to letting Obama devise a more surgical method of removing $85 billion from the economy over the next seven months. Democrats reject that idea — indeed, they voted down one such GOP proposal in the Senate on Thursday — and argue there is no way to slash that deep without gashing the fragile recovery.“There is no way to cut spending this dramatically over a seven-month period without drastically affecting national security and economic priorities,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
The impending collision of these two convictions is why some Capitol Hill aides from both parties have been privately predicting a government shutdown for weeks or months. In the event of a shutdown, Republicans — who have far less public support than the President — run the risk of being punished by voters for overreaching. But they’re betting that voters will hardly notice the impacts of sequestration by the time the next budget deadline rolls around, and decide the new normal is something they can live with.